NOTE:Although this Korean Import DVD is NTSC, it is coded for playback in Region 3 only. In order to watch this disc, you'll have to have either a player coded for Region 3, or a Region Free DVD Player.
Kang Tae-shik (Choi Min-shik of Oldboy fame) is the former Silver Medal winner for Boxing at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games but in the present day, he's fallen from grace and finds himself struggling to keep his marriage together and support his wife and kid. He has resorted to standing on street corners with a sign advertising himself a stress reliving human sandbag who will take whatever abuse you want to hurl at him for a few minutes if you're willing to throw some money his way. He's drowning in debt and his wife is planning on leaving him soon, taking their son with her. Eventually he winds up living in what is essentially a shack, trying to figure out how he can pay off his debts and get his life back together again.
While Kang Tae-shik is dealing with his problems, we're also introduced to a young punk named Sang-hwan (Ryoo Seung-beom). He's a troublemaker but when his father ends up having to pay off a large amount of cash to some of the victims of his rage, he decides to try and get some of that money back by mugging a local loan shark. Of course, that doesn't go as planned and Kang Tae-shik finds himself locked up for the next five years. Getting into a fight on the first day of his incarceration gets Kang Tae-shik noticed by the man who runs the prison boxing team. As fate would have it, as these two men on opposite sides of the social spectrum but who have so much in common live out their lives, destiny brings them closer together whether they want it to or not.
A nice hybrid of action and human interest stories, Crying Fist might be a little predictable but it's so well made and well acted that it really doesn't matter. Yeah, if you've seen a few boxing movies in your life you can probably figure out where it's all heading before you get there but going along with director Ryoo Seung-wan for the ride is still an enjoyable experience thanks to the two lead performers and the copious amount of style that the film has been injected with, even though at times, some of it seems like a little bit of overkill with the rapid fire editing and harsh contrast through over exposure used to heighten the fight scenes. Choi Min-shik is excellent in his role, he's got one of those faces that looks natural whether he's involved in an embrace or in a brawl. Ryoo Seung-beom (the director's brother) does just fine in the role of the arrogant and cocky young upstart and he brings just enough craziness to his role that you can allow your mind to accept that what he's doing in the film is in keeping with his character. The interesting thing about the film and the actors is that the movie is able to evoke sympathy from the audience for them, despite the fact that in all reality, these two men are bastards. Regardless, we do feel for these two losers in life as their story unfolds and it's that depth of characterization that makes Crying Fist work and distinguishes it from being lumped in as 'just another boxing movie.' While the movie does veer towards some stereotypes of the genre for a few minutes here and there (that training sequence might as well have had Eye Of The Tiger playing behind it), it's seeing the change that the two men go through that carries the film, rather than the fight scenes (which are well done in and of themselves and quite realistic to watch).
Aside from some fairly heavy edge enhancement and a bit of shimmering, this 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer holds up very, very nicely. The colors are bright and vibrant save for some select scenes that are intentionally muted and the black levels stay strong and deep from start to finish. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there's a very nice level of both foreground and background detail present throughout the movie. Sharpness and contrast look pretty much dead on and there are no noticeable problems with mpeg compression artifacts present on the transfer. It should be mentioned that the lighting in a few scenes is really harsh and the colors are boosted way past their normal levels in these scenes. This is obviously intentional as the movie goes back to it in a few scenes, and it's there to emphasize certain parts of the film – it's not a flaw on the DVD.
You've got the option of watching the film in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or in a DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mix, both of which are in the film's native Korean language. Optional subtitles are available in Korean and in English.
Both mixes do a great job bringing the dialogue to the forefront of the mix where it should be. The clarity of all of the performers is fine and you won't have any trouble hearing them speak, even during some of the more intense of complicated moments of the film. But where these mixes really struts their stuff is during the fight scenes. The punches aren't so much heard as they are felt by the viewer and your subwoofer will beg you for more. The background score and sound effects rise up nicely behind it all and everything just builds into a wonderful crescendo during a few specific moments in the film. There's really not much to complain about here at all – both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are great.
The supplements on the first DVD are limited to two audio commentaries, neither of which are subtitled in English. The first commentary track is with Choi Min-sik and Ryoo Seung-beom, and the second commentary is with Ryoo Seung-wan,
The second disc contains the bulk of the supplements, but again, nothing here is subtitled in English. Included on the disc are two featurettes - A Boxer's Life and The Making Of Crying Fist. These include some behind the scenes footage and plenty of interviews, none of which I was able to understand. There's also a pair of music videos here, as well as a handful of deleted scenes (there are thirteen of them in total and there's an optional commentary available for each of them) and a multi-angle option for a few specific spots in the feature, all of which revolve around the finale scene. Two trailers and some footage of the film playing at Cannes are also included.
Also worth noting is that both discs are housed inside a very nice slipcase that also contains a sizeable full color booklet containing information about the film as well as plenty of pictures. It's all on Korean so I've got no idea what it's about, but it is pretty to look at.
While the lack of English subtitles is regrettable (though not surprising), this two disc set does have very nice audio and video quality and Crying First is a pretty decent film that combines action and drama with two good lead performances. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.