Doh Wan-Deuk lives what most probably would see as a less than idea life as his circumstances have largely lead to him the position of no friends or real goals for himself due to the almost impenetrable aura he exudes when around most others. Perhaps some of this nature comes from being raised in the cabaret where his hunchbacked father worked as a dancer and took his son with him to work after his mother had vanished out of the family’s life when Wan-Deuk was still an infant and so he was practically raised there. Whether this far less than optimal upbringing is to blame or not, Wan-Duek has become a second year high school student who would rather just work as he doesn’t see what good an education will do him- of course part of his desire to quit is also be because he considers his homeroom teacher Dong-ju to be his enemy. This bane of his existence is an often brusque man who proclaims in class he sees little hope in trying to teach his students (and rarely really tries because of it), is fond of using physical punishment to correct his wayward students (usually Wan-Duek), can use crude language and reminds Wan-Duek of his meek financial state by telling him to take home the donated rice in the office which Wan-Duek had been avoiding out of pride in front of his classmates…rice which Dong-ju will often hit Wan-Duek up for as he lives on the rooftop apartment across from Wan-Duek’s. With this background it probably isn’t a surprise that Wan-Duek isn’t terrible open about his emotions which has partially lead him to be a loner who at times thinks of running away and prays to God to be free of Dong-ju. But perhaps God does work in mysterious ways (or as Wan-Duek, suspects perhaps Dong-ju just gives God more money to ignore Wan-Duek’s request) and it may turn out that Dong-ju may not be the worst thing to ever happen to the youth as Dong-ju knows where Wan-Duek’s mother is which may start a new a change in Wan-Duek that he never could have expected or believed.
Punch is a film that defies easy classification in a couple of ways as it has moments of drama and comedy yet its pace is such that it doesn’t seem to be building to these moments as much as the film is a slice of a period of time taken from Wan-Duek’s life that shows off some highs and lows (mostly highs) but which feels like it was designed to provide a different type of flow to things than many traditional films attempt. This different framing is pretty much at the heart of the feature as it allows for the characters to go about their lives with a minimum of initial introduction which at times pays off spectacularly and at other times can leave the viewer scratching their head at some events as the (often) absurd and varied members of the cast bounce off from each other in some moments that will provoke laughter at times and just some odd seeming moments at others. It is really here that the movie casts it subtle spell as it carefully uses the casts’ quirks to charm and disarm the viewer and allow for the heartfelt moments to feel a lot less predictable than many other movies and which works to create a whole that really sets up the viewer to experience some surprises they might not expect at the time.
The other side of the coin however is that the different pacing may make it hard for many movie fans to feel like they are getting a traditional story as the film’s propensity to move at its own pace can make it difficult to connect with all of the moments or characters, particularly early in the film. On top of that the film feels like it has almost an abundance of characters and situations that sometimes see a resolution and sometimes feel like real life where the answers aren’t always given in a short time frame or perfectly but it presents situations more like the individuals are now moving forward from a stagnant place. While the audience may not get to see the growth they wish for in the feature from all the cast sometimes seeing the germination of a person’s growth can be as rewarding and as much as an accomplishment as meeting some preexisting notion of what would constitutes a “happy ending” for other films.
Even with its moments that feel oddly paced or a cast that feels a bit too big for the time run which leaves a couple of them feeling less than fully developed, the feature manages to overcome these moments with a pretty amazing skill in knowing just how to balance these odd quirks with a careful structure that gives the audience a chance to let some of the previous scenes to go onto a backburner and simmer which allows their reintroduction to feel both more real and more powerful as they come across as less staged. When all of this is combined with the decidedly less than “Afternoon Special” type of teacher, a vocal and obnoxious neighbor plus the exploration of just what it means to be a family with some of the other cast members that exist in this small community the film manages to bring in a sizable amount of heart and warmth that at times seems surprising given some of the pieces. It is the assembly off all these pieces which shows the influences on Wan-Duek on his journey from isolated youth to young man who is willing to reach out to those around him and embrace the strength to be willing to face the possibility of failure which allows him the chance to be so much greater than he would be by closing himself in.