The Art of Fighting (싸움의 기술, Shin Han-sol: 2006)

Sick of being bullied and beaten up at school, Byeung-tae one day witnesses an old man who has incredible fighting skills. Seeing him as a way out of his torment, Byeung-tae tries to convicne the man to become his self-defence teacher. Initially refusing, Byeung-tae manages to wear the stubborn old man down so he eventuall relents – but when he starts being taught Byeung-tae wonders what it is exactly that he has let himself in for…

A sensitive coming-of-age flick, The Art of Fighting is an impressive debut from director Shin Han-so. Making the wise choice of finding two really very sturdy lead actors to push him through any rough patches in the run of the mill material, Shin Han-so delivers a solid – albeit quietly conventional – flick. Baek Yoon-sik (you might know him as the unlucky businessman in Save The Green Planet) is as excellent as we’ve come to expect him to be, as is Jae Hee as the unlucky bugger who gets the crap knocked out of him every five minutes. With these two anchoring the film – and really managing to shine when bouncing off of each other in their scenes together – The Art of Fighting is worth a look.

There’s really nothing new to be found in The Art of Fighting, and if that sounds depressing then you’ll be relieved to hear that the pleasure is all to be found in the delivery. It’s a great looking film, gently paced and very well acted – so even if he plot is of the by-the-numbers variety, from the instantly recognisable ‘coming of age’ book of plotting, it still manages to entertain for just over an hour and a half. If you’ve seen more than a handful of these sorts of films (alright, if you’ve seen at least two) then you’ll recognise the ‘growth’ of the character down to the pacing and the plot beats. You can probably guess what happens at the end before you even start to watch the film too.

So cries of ‘saw that coming’ aside, The Art of Fighting is worth a look for those performances and the slickness of the whole thing. Jae Hee spends most of his screen time with a bloody nose and being treated like crap by most of the cast, but his pained performance keeps us sympathetic to his problems rather than writing him off as a pathetic wimp. Byeung-tae on the other hand has a ball as the rough living Oh – it’s not the most rounded character ever, but it’s a fun one. The Art of Fighting has a tidy line in black humour – much of it coming from the relationship between this unlikely duo and like the best of these types of films, humour is used to lighten the dark subject matter. That it manages to say much more through this humour than through tested and tired plot cliches hints at what the film could have been had it been pushed out into more unfamiliar territory. Still, overlook this tired plotting – and forgive a final few minutes that feel totally out of place with the rest of the film, an ill-judged misstep – and The Art of Fighting manages to nudge itself up to an above average coming-of-age (i.e. ‘life’s a bitch, deal with it’) drama.

싸움의 기술 (The Art of Fighting)
Directed by Shin Han-sol
Produced by Lee Seo-yeol
Written by Shin Han-sol, Min Dong-hyun
Starring Baek Yoon-sik, Jae Hee, Kim Eung-soo, Choi Yeo-jin

The Art of Fighting Image © Corea Entertainment