“Battered wife = comedy gold. Or not.”
Not unlike The Opponent, this centers on a battered woman, who takes up the pugilistic arts in an attempt to regain control of her life. The big difference here is that, for a great chunk of its running time, this is played for laughs. Yeah: spousal abuse as a topic for broad comedy. Oh, those wacky Koreans! Sarcasm aside, it makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing, simply because such an approach would be almost inconceivable as a mainstream project in the West, due to the backlash. And this certainly was mainstream in Korea, getting a wide, national release – though it bombed, with its box-office performance described as “shockingly bad.” So maybe the Koreans aren’t quite as different from us after all…
The heroine is Ha-eun (To), who has the misfortune to be married to Joo-Chang (Park) and his vicious temper. Worse still, he’s a champion in mixed martial-arts, and doesn’t hesitate to use his ring skills on her and their daughter (Choi). But when he kills an opponent, an ex-boyfriend of Ha-eun, she storms the post-fight press conference, berating him and challenging him to fight her in the ring, rather than outside it. He agrees to do so, with one hand literally tied, and the custody of their daughter going to the winner. No legitimate trainer will touch her, but she finds a much more dubious coach in Soo-hyeon (Son), who is actually her daughter’s Math teacher, and is about to turn the gym into a nursery. However, funded by her ex-boyfriend’s life-insurance policy, of which she was the beneficiary, Ha-eun makes Soo-hyeon a generous offer. He accepts, taking classes at from Joo-chang’s gym, so he can stay one step ahead of his pupil as he trains her for the big fight.
Of course, a huge amount of disbelief needs to be suspended here, not least in the assertion that any legitimate MMA organization would sanction such a match – nothing good could come of it – or that someone (regardless of gender) could go toe-to-toe with an MMA champion, after only a few weeks of training from a clueless adviser. Not happening. It’s also hugely uneven in tone, an almost inevitable flaw as a result of the decision to take the story and treat it largely as the basis for goofy antics. This is at odds with the opening, and also the battle at the end, which is genuinely uncomfortable to watch, as Joo-Chang beats the shit out of Ha-Eun (at least initially; I don’t think saying so deserves classification as a spoiler). I have to say, Kang does a fabulous job of shooting the fight itself: whatever the other weaknesses, he nails it, keeping things interesting and tense throughout. The rest, however, probably needed to go in some different directions to be successful; perhaps, play up the media hysteria more. That said, I think I can say, with a fair degree of confidence, you won’t have seen anything quite like this, and even for that alone, this deserves credit.