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Art of Fighting (KOREA 2006)


Director :
Shin Han-so
Cast : Baek Yoon-sik, Jae Hee

Teenager Byeung-tae is constantly picked on and bullied at school. Unable to find a
way to defend himself, he one day spies an old man by the name of Pan-su who appears to have amazing fighting skills. Byeung-tae starts to hassle the strange Pan-su, asking him to teach him how to fight. At first the old man refuses, but over time he starts to change his mind. He agrees to teach him. Unfortunately, it is not exactly what Byeung-tae was expecting…

by Martin Cleary

A striking directorial debut from Shin Han-so, The Art of Fighting is not the ‘balls-to-the-wall’ action film that the title would suggest, nor is it a ‘wacky comedy’ as some of the promotional material would seem to make out. The Art of Fighting is, in fact, a surprisingly sensitive coming of age drama – with plenty of black comedy thrown in for good luck.

The casting of Baek Yoon-sik (the tormented businessman from Save The Green Planet) and Jae Hee (from Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron) is the key to the film from beginning to end. The two actors really bounce off of each other, and their relationship is where the fun is to be had, giving performances that grab your attention from the very beginning and don’t let go. Jae Hee manages to convey a lot through simple facial expressions and is proving to be a very strong actor who uses more than delivery of dialogue in his performances, showing a real presence onscreen in moments of silence. Baek Yoon-sik is, for those of you who don’t already know, a class act through and through and here he is no exception – his Pan-su is not a particularly nice man, and it’s a wise choice that Yoon-sik doesn’t unnecessarily soften the character at any point. Luckily, both of these performances help to paper over the main fault that the film has – the plot is pretty obvious from the very outset. Still, the weak plot is not enough of a fault to stop your enjoyment of the film by any means, there’s plenty more to recommend.

Bearing in mind that Jae Hee spends most of the film getting slapped around and with a bloody nose, its lucky that his performance makes you stay with him through his struggle, rather than alienate him because his a wimp. He’s not. The journey that his character goes through is a maturity that is above simply hitting people. Director Shin Han-so wisely restrains the plot arc, holding back until right at the last minute – which cuts down on any dodgy ‘Karate Kid’ style moments.Visually the film is very strong and avoids using fancy camera angles and editing opting instead for some simple but very effective visual compositions. Surprisingly for a film that is so concerned with the idea
of fighting, there’s only a few instances when the violence itself it shown onscreen.

Most of the violence takes place off screen – and it often seems a lot worse simply because the camera cuts away right at the point when someone is getting hurt. What we are left with is often the aftermath of any violence – we hear a character getting punched and the next time you see them they’re bleeding. It’s an interesting approach – it avoids any sort of glamorizing and is all the more captivating because of this.

The Art of Fighting is well worth a watch. It falls just short of a ‘must-see’ recommendation because of an ending which seems a little out of tune with the rest of the film. The last few minutes aside, it’s a very enjoyable and funny film and while the narrative is always fairly predictable it still manages to avoid a lot of the usual coming-of-age cheesiness – with a punch to the nose and a big smile.

Plot : 3/5
Acting : 4/5
Entertainment : 4/5
Overall : 4/5

Notables Scenes
- Pan-su’s casual appearance
- Byeung-tae tries different approaches at self-defence
  (including using a light strip)
- Pan-su has a disagreement in the sauna
- Byeung-tae learns from Pan-su. The hard way.
- Byeung-tae learns his lessons – and confronts the bullies.

Buy this movie at YesAsia – Art of Fighting �

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