Champion (2002)

"OK"

Champion (2002) Review


Watch enough movies, and you'll learn that every country has its own Rocky. The Korean version is called, prosaically enough, Champion, and it chronicles the true story of Korean boxing phenom Deuk-gu Kim (Oh-sung Yoo), a lightweight-class brawler with a heart of gold who fought his way to the top, only to die after sustaining head injuries in a fight against Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini in 1982.

Because the film is a celebration of a true-life national hero, it's forced to walk a very narrow and cliché-ridden narrative path. We see Kim's poverty-stricken childhood, his escape to the big city where he must do things like sell his blood in order to scrape by, and his violent encounter with a gangster that leads him to seek out a gym where he can learn to box and defend himself.

At the gym we find, as expected, the crusty old coach who beats those who lose a boxing match with a baseball bat and then beats the winners as well so they'll remember what it feels like to lose. Kim also picks up a good-natured best buddy, whom, as such films demand, he briefly abandons when his success starts to take him places.

Throughout the movie we get the requisite training montages, jump rope sequences, bloody slow-motion punches, and long moments when Kim stares at himself in the mirror, wonders what life is all about, and then writes slogans to himself that he pastes on the bedroom wall. Kim also finds a wife (Min-seo Chae), whose father justifiably disapproves of him, at least until he starts raking in the dough, at which point his son-in-law improves in his eyes.

Clearly Kim sees boxing as his salvation, and he is fond of extolling its virtues when he meets the press, gives speeches, or visits his hometown. What's strange is his insistence the true beauty of boxing is found in its inherent "fairness," a struggle between two men, one of whom is stronger. It's a good thing Kim didn't spend too much time hanging around the American boxing scene or he might have come to a different conclusion regarding the purity of the sport. In fact, his tragic death is brought about by a long list of unfair circumstances, most of which writer/director K.T. Kwak chooses to gloss over.

Oh-seong Yu is a watchable lead, and some of the boxing action in Champion is raw and exciting, but this familiar arc of triumph and tragedy won't stir audiences, except perhaps for Koreans, who hold their national hero in very high regard.

He'll keep on fighting, 'til the end.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Kyung-Taek Kwak

Producer: Weon-jang Jo

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