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REVIEW: Everybody goes through a time where they eagerly look for the answer to the age-old question, “Who am I?” Many of us may even go through defiant behavior, such as being too sensitive or feeling angry. The comedy movie tells the story of an 18-year-old high school student named Wan-deuk (Yoo Ah-in). Living with his father and uncle, the unhappy student comes from an impoverished household. His father’s a person with a handicap, born with a humpback, and has trouble finding work. Because of old Korean traditional values, he married a Vietnamese woman since it was difficult to find a Korean wife.
Perhaps due to his unstable family life, she eventually left him and her son, Wan-deuk. Wan-deuk grows up with an attitude, getting poor grades in school and often fighting in the neighborhood. The bitter teen has little to hope or dream for. He wants to drop out of school and make money for his father. He sees many people disregard his father because he has no money, no power and he’s a person with a disability. When people treat his father unfairly and ignore him, it infuriates Wan-deuk.
Even though Wan-deuk has been the rebel, there is one person who hasn’t given up on him. His name is Dong-su (Kim Yoon-seok), He’s Wan-deuk’s homeroom teacher and also lives next door to Wan-deuk and decides to become a mentor for him. He mentors the boy in unusual ways. Dong-su is odd and seems to have no respect for Wan-deuk’s privacy, even telling about Wan-duek’s personal life in front of his classmates. This makes Wan-deuk hate Dong-su. So desperate to be rid of him, one day Wan-deuk goes to a church and prays for Dong-su to be killed.
Wan-deuk’s hobby is kickboxing. He’s good at it and it gives him only happiness. It makes him feel alive. One day, Dong-su tells Wan-deuk about Wan-deuk’s mother’s story. Dong-su knows her and recommends that they meet. Wan-deuk is shocked because he didn’t know anything about his mother because his father never talked about her. Dong-su tells him his mother left them but secretly has been watching him grow up.
Soon after, Wan-deuk’s mother leaves food on their doorstep. They eventually meet and he slowly opens his mind to his mother. At first they speak with honorific words to each other, showing their respect, but it shows they want to get closer. She even visits his house and cooks for him, her ex-husband and some neighbors, including Dong-su. For the first time Wan-deuk has a family.
After spending all this time with Dong-su, Wan-deuk slowly changes. Dong-su melts Wan-deuk’s frozen heart. He once hated everything, felt hopeless and dreamless. Actually Wan-deuk always loved his father but he didn’t know how to show his true feelings, instead expressing anger. That anger came to define him. Wan-deuk knows his father always suffers patiently, even though people treat him badly. Now Wan-deuk understands Dong-su’s devotion to him. Dong-su has been looking out for him all this time.
Directed by Lee Han, and based on the bestselling book of the same name by Kim Ryeo-ryeong, Punch tells a funny and often poignant story with opposites: Poor people and rich people, a high performing student and a low performing student, a frail short man in love with healthy taller woman, even instant rice and homemade chicken soup. These are all part of real life too. Lee Han makes Wan-deuk the main character, but Wan-deuk is also ourselves.
Mentor films are very popular but not always successful in telling their story. Like Whiplash, a much more serious film, Dong-su in Punch also treats his student aggressively, and it also benefits both. Dong-su was not well-liked by his colleagues and his style was not always understood, it made students more strong. I wonder if I had this kind of teacher, could I ride out the situation? How about you?
There is one moment I want to briefly mention. Dong-su once said to Wan-deuk, “Don’t be ashamed of your poverty. More shameful is refusing other people’s help and starving to death.” Wan-deuk was upset because Dong-su said this to him in front of his classmates, but Wan-deuk came to learn it takes more than just money to be happy. For me, this is a good lesson to learn.
The story can be serious and a little heavy because of Wan-deuk’s situation and the gap between the rich and the poor, but the story adds some great comic parts to keep it fresh. I highly recommend watching it.
Trailer with English subtitles.