Punch (Wan-deuk-i)

This movie was fun, and you should get your hands on it and see it, if you can, particularly if you like Koreans acting like Koreans, because in this movie the people were so Korean my hair turned black, my eyes turned brown, and I decided to go out for soju and samgyeupsal the moment the movie ended, so I could talk about how handsome Wandeuki was with my pretty wife, going over the highness of his nose bridge and the good proportions of his naturally double-lidded eyes, while getting drunk enough (in the traditional fashion) to vomit all over the nearest telephone pole.

This Korean movie is fairly notable in that it features multiple non-Korean characters speaking Korean. One happens to be a loveable, teddy bear-like South Asian man named Hassan, and another is the main character, Wandeuki’s—the guy on the bottom of the poster’s—mom, a rather remarkable Philippine woman who in our so-called real life happens to be running for political office, Arnold Schwarzenegger-like, up in Seoul at this very moment. Her name is Jasmine Lee, and I found her role in the film to be far more frustrating, as she plays an extraordinarily submissive, slave-like foreign bride, and spends far too much time servilely bowing and scraping to everyone for a fellow with American sensibilities to really enjoy her performance.

She gave up her son and left her family for seventeen or eighteen years, and only randomly reappears in her son’s life when the helpful and active communist teacher (the guy in the top of the photo) finds her and sends her to Wandeuki’s house. She doesn’t really explain why she was gone for so long, and the film forgives her instantly because she begins making really good Korean food for her son, as any ideal Korean mother would, although by the way she looks at him she seems to be terrified of being beaten to a pulp by her halfcaste boy.

One of the problems with this film is that the actor who plays Wandeuki is a full-blooded Korean, and beyond refraining from dousing him with the usual cadaverous albino makeup that all Korean actors receive before going in front of the camera, so that he looks slightly more like a real Korean—one with actual color—he does not look a shred like his mother, all the more remarkable considering that the homogeneity of the faces in Korea is so omnipresent that when you see people of mixed descent, you notice immediately that they are not fully Korean.

As for Jasmine Lee, I still can’t get over her weakness in this film. Imagine an American movie about a boy with a black mother and a white father. The mother leaves the boy when he is a baby and comes back eighteen years later with barely the strength to look anyone in the eye, doing exactly as she is told whenever she comes onscreen. How dull and disappointing that would be. Let’s see the woman rage against the problems in our society, instead. Let’s see her freak the fuck out, and castigate the shit out of the all the judgmental viewers who have ever checked their belongings in their pockets or locked their car doors in the company of random black people. And let that be just the beginning!

In Wandeuki, the criticism of Korean society is naturally left up to Koreans, because the culture here is obviously too arcane for any foreigner to comprehend. Not once does Jasmine Lee complain that although she was highly educated in the Philippines, she is stuck waiting tables at some kind of meat restaurant, and has apparently been there for decades. Instead we have the fortunate son, the inculcating teacher, Dongju (again, in the top of the picture), giving his class a basic lesson on Marx (surely to be followed up by a demand that everyone observe a moment of silence for the death of Kim Jong Il), and attacking his own soullessly evil industrialist father for exploiting foreign workers.

But where are those workers? The butt of all the jokes in Korean society, the 3D workers perennially busy taking everyone’s jobs, they appear in the background, on occasion, only—unlike in Bandhobi, when one of them takes the center. There were two Rocky Sports Montages in this movie, but I would have liked to see a different montage, one of the women married to murderous, psychotic, abusive husbands, unable to return to their homes, barely even able to call their families, forced to speak a foreign language, forced to cook and eat strange foreign food all the time, and forced to watch their own children grow up shunned by the society that they themselves are supposed to embrace; the men who were maimed in factories and deported without any kind of compensation or recourse to legal aid; the twenty year-olds who have to endure stares, glares, and leers, everywhere they go, every day—I would have liked to see each of them standing in front of the camera, staring right into it, right back at all the Koreans who have ever stared at them.

And god damn. I’m a white guy living in Korea. Korea is practically a white person’s paradise. But when my wife and I left the mini-theater yesterday, we got stared at by a pack of Korean men, and it angered me so much I thought then and there of getting the hell out of Korea forever. And I’m white. I know it’s a lot easier for me here than people who weren’t lucky enough to be born with the right kind of skin pigmentation. But still—getting stared at, even a little, in that way, really, really, sucks. The land itself seems to be telling you that you have overstepped your bounds and that you are not wanted here. You can teach the kids English, but you better keep your hands off the women.

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