It is always heavyweight boxers who capture the public’s imagination. The bland, glamour-less world of the lightweight, the featherweight, the welterweight and the bantamweight seems so absolutely boring when quivering in the shadows of great heavyweight personalities like psychopathic ear-chomper Iron Mike Tyson and Britain’s gentle-giant and occasional pantomime star, Frank Bruno. Indeed, if accomplished actor and chart-topping rapper Will Smith – you may remember he gave a hilarious performance as the Fresh Prince in the groundbreaking sit-com, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air – had starred in McGuigan instead of Ali, his career might well have been over.
Surprisingly, Rocky is a movie that doesn’t get cloned too often, despite its success. Maybe it’s because there really aren’t too many ways you can tell a rags-to-riches boxing story. Korean director Kyung-Taek Kwak’s Champion – telling the story of how dole-dosser and occasional vagrant Kim Deuk-gu climbed to the top as a lightweight boxer on a diet of noodles, sheer determination and an array of crudely written signs bearing such words of wisdom as, “Must do morning exercises every day.” – hardly breaks new ground by replacing the usual happy ending with a sad one.
There aren’t really many magic moments in Champion, although a wry smile graced my lips every once in a while – of course at things that weren’t meant to be funny. The way the coach treats his fighters for example, smacking Deuk-gu’s arse (it may be the back of his legs actually, but the mind cannot help wondering about things it cannot see) with a baseball bat when he loses a fight – a winning fighter gets the same treatment so he knows what to expect if he loses. Deuk-gu’s victory parade is accompanied by a brass-band playing the Hawaii 5-0 theme tune – maybe it’s Korea’s national anthem or something, I don’t know. Champion’s token rock song may not do anything for fans of Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger, but I personally feel that a song with the chorus, “My hungry stomach, only filled with a few noodles and the rest with water,” is absolute genius.
Not a bad film, and at times (I stress, “at times”) fairly (and I stress, “fairly”) engrossing, Champion is certainly not a film that will stand up to repeated viewing. I doubt anyone who has seen it once would bother to see it again. “Aye, it’s champion,” my dad used to say. But he wasn’t talking about this, was he?