May 17, 2014

Mutt Boy: A Howl of Despair

Let's start with a scene near the end of Kwak Kyung-taek's despairingly watchable Mutt Boy. Specifically, the prison fight scene. The one involving Cheol-min (Jung Woo-sung) and his mortal enemy Jin-mook (Kim Jeong-tae) -- the same Jin-mook who had Cheol-min's pet German shepherd killed then fed to the school's soccer team when the two boys were in high school. That Jin-mook. That despicable, quite unlikable, sick and twisted jerk.

Paired together at last for the ultimate cage match, the eponymous "Mutt Boy" and the meanie strip down to their skivvies -- tighty whities for the hero; black panties for the baddie, of course -- and take to fisticuffs (while wearing, for some unfathomable reason, gags). Free to fight without interruption, they punch mercilessly and without strategy. They don't block. They don't dodge. They just punch and punch and punch. And then when they're done with punching, they wrestle. And then they roll around and grapple and neck lock, all while wearing their symbolic undies.

The fellow prisoners are excited at first, then they grow weary because the fight goes on so long, and then some get excited again when it's over, even if it doesn't feel like an outright victory. The same can be said about Cheol-min's relationship with his adopted sister and love interest Jeong-ae (Uhm Ji-won). They fight. They wear each other out. He kind of wins but it doesn't feel like a victory. Same for his relationship with his chief of police dad (Kim Kap-su). Fight. Win. Non-victory. Same with the movie. It wears you down, wins you over, but you don't leave feeling good that about it. But you have to admit that it won. Ding. Ding. Ding.

If they handed out awards for weirdest performance, then for the year of 2003, Jung would definitely get it here for playing the slack-jawed, shat-upon dimwit who against all odds gets to helm his own gang and win over the ladies. His isn't a Cinderella story though. He was made to be miserable. He's got love, family, friends, a job, a roof over his head, looks, a wicked right hook, and potentially a new dog at the end but I wouldn't trade places with him for the world.

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