What happens when an abused wife has had enough of her husband’s temper? She settles the score in this Korean film by Kang Hyo-Jin.
Ha-Eun (Do Ji-Won) is constantly abused by her husband Ju-Chang (Park Sang-Uk), a champion kickboxer who spends his time drinking and ridiculing both Ha-Eun and their daughter Chun-Shim (Choi Seol-Ri). He knows he is a champion and feels like everyone has to know it. He constantly thinks his wife is cheating on him and beats her. When Chun-Shim tells her father she wishes he dies in the ring, Ju-Chang nearly attacks her only to get hit from behind by Ha-Eun. Ha-Eun ends up in jail.
Upon being bailed out, she decides to leave him and get a job as a waitress. There, she meets ex-boyfriend Park Sung-Yeon (Kim Ji-Wan), who is also a kickboxer. In fact, his next fight is against Ju-Chang. During the fight, Ju-Chang notices that Sung-Yeon is eyeing Ha-Eun. An angry Ju-Chang resorts to using dirty tactics, causing Sung-Yeon to fall out of the ring and die.
Seeing the dirty tactics trigger Ha-Eun to do what could be the impossible: challenge her husband to a fight in the ring. There is only one small problem: Ha-Eun doesn’t know how to fight. She finds herself in training with Gye Sung-Ha (Kim Byung-Chul), a loserish geek who himself doesn’t really know how to fight yet has the dream to run his own gym. While Ju-Chang tries to break his wife’s spirit by posing legal threats, Ha-Eun becomes more determined to fight after a near tragic accident causes pain with not only her, but her daughter as well.
The theme of the film is similar to Jennifer Lopez’s Hollywood film ENOUGH (2002), where the female protagnist trains in martial arts to protect herself against her abusive husband. Unlike the protagonist here, abused Ha-Eun, played well by Do Ji-Won, decides to challenge the husband to a fight in the ring. Perhaps it is because she wants everyone to see that there is more to her champion husband underneath the surface. It is great to see Ha-Eun make a transition from being an abused housewife with no self-esteem to a strong woman who finally has had enough and must fight not only for her daughter, but for herself as well.
Park Sang-Uk gives an impressive performance as the abusive Ju-Chang. He oozes the word “scumbag” from the moment you see him. Here, he plays a champion kickboxer who lets the fame truly get to his head. He abuses Ha-Eun, constantly assuming she is sleeping around and even goes as far as abusing teen daughter Chun-Shim, played with intensity by Choi Seol-Ri. It is when Ju-Chang kills Sung-Yeon (who is revealed to be Ha-Eun’s ex-boyfriend right before she married Ju-Chang) that drives Ha-Eun over the edge. She wants to show that Ju-Chang not only is abusive outside the ring, but in the ring too with his tactics.
The training sequences drag slightly, but only because Ha-Eun’s coach, played by Kim Byung-Chul, is not exactly what one would call a “qualified” coach. He actually learns from Ju-Chang’s coach and uses those same tactics to train Ha-Eun. He becomes the catalyst for Ha-Eun’s eventual transformation both mentally and physically. He may seem impish, but he really does have a heart and cares for Ha-Eun. Thankfully, a relationship between the two is never established as it would have discredited the film just a tad. The final bout is well done, not too fast, not too slow. It is rightfully paced and shot quite well with an interesting vertical 360-degree shot used in one portion.
PUNCH LADY is quite an exhilarating action-drama involving one woman’s quest in redemption for herself by doing the impossible. Do Ji-Won gives a great performance and you will want to root for her by the film’s end reel. Worth a rental and see for yourself.