Feature profile – Punch, directed by LEE Han

by KIM Haery   02.03.2012
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Set to compete in the Berlinale’s Generation 14plus section, director LEE Han’s <Punch> stars up-and-coming actor YU A-in. KIM Haery profiles the film and young actor who personified the much-loved character of a bestselling novel.
 - Photograph by Baek Jong-Heon
When the film adaptation of KIM Ryeo-Ryeong’s bestselling novel <Wandeugi> (which sold 500,000 copies in Korea) was announced, the public responded approvingly to the casting of the title role. So who was this fictional boy Wandeug (or Wan-deuk), and what about this actor YU A-in who played him in the film <Punch>?
Wan-deuk is a poor 17-year-old boy who lives in a single-room home with his father who is teased because of his dwarfism and a mentally challenged ‘uncle’ to whom he has no blood relation. Already heavily burdened enough, the boy’s confusion is increased when he finds out he has a Filipino mother who suddenly shows up one day. A precocious boy who doesn’t make a fuss about his woes but is highly cynical, he is drawn out into the world little by little by the persistent efforts of his idiosyncratic homeroom teacher Dong-joo (played by KIM Yoon-suk).
Yu A-in, whois known to have pursued the part of Wan-deuk from the beginning, made his debut in 2003 with the teenager TV series <Rounding-Off> and gained recognition for his potential,winning newcomer accoladesata variety of film awards with his performance in the film <Boys of Tomorrow> (2007). The 2010 KBS TV series <Sung-kyun-kwan Scandal> became a sleeper hit that expanded his popularity throughout the East Asia region.
What differentiates Yu as an actor is his independent conduct and liberal self-expression that moves beyond the constraints of the entertainment industry. Exceptionally for someone in Korean society, Yu dropped out of high school and struck out on his own to become an actor. He communicates with the public his unique opinions and sensibilities through his website and through social networking services. As a result, he is accepted as a star that is sexy not only because of his outward appearance, but also because of his mind.
Wan-deuk is not a typical rebellious child who smashes into any and all obstacles as they come, but rather a boy who has learned too early about life’s unfairness and has a look of resignation about it all. The character effectively resonated with audiences in the person of Yu A-in, who looks like an old soul dwelling in a childlike face.
As a coming-of-age film,<Punch> is marked by the fact that it deals with the difficult growth of a multi-cultural family teen in an era where labor moves across borders and unfairness and conflict are brought to the surface because of it – but the film portrays it with the cinematic grammar of a buoyant comedy.
Yu evaluates it thus: “In supporting the buoyant rhythm, I wasn’t able to go deeper inside Wan-deuk and as an actor and I wish I could have, but I’m satisfied with the fact that [we] found a cinematic compromise that maintained the essence of the theme while not grumbling, ‘Why won’t you listen to our tales of misfortune?’I think there should be more films like that.”
Audiences agreed with him as witnessed by the 5 million admissions the film took in at the box office, leaping far and above expectations for one made for the production budget of KW3 billion (US$2.65 million). Produced by UBU Film and CJ E&M, the film had a small release in the US and took US$135,000 over six weeks.

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