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I recently watched a Korean drama titled Punch, which aired on SBS in the final quarter of 2003. I had kept this drama for the longest time, having watched it without English subtitles. When I realized that a fansub group had subbed it, I had to rewatch the drama with the subtitles, and the entire thing turned out to be a hot mess.
The drama starred Joo Jin Mo as Lee Han Sae, a boxer who gave up boxing when he accidentally killed his opponent, Jang Yoo Chul. Shin Min Ah starred as Jang Yoo Bin, that deceased boxer’s sister. Sung Si Kyung played Jo Sung Woo, an advertising executive who is mesmerized by Jang Yoo Bin, and decides to make her a model. So Yi Hyun played Oh Hae Mi, a woman that had an irrational hatred for Yoo Bin and a questionable love for Lee Han Sae.
Multiple relationship triangles abound in this drama. Lee Han Sae falls in love with Jang Yoo Bin. Jo Sung Woo also falls in love with Yoo Bin at first sight. Yoo Bin only loves Han Sae, but fights that attraction when she discovers the horrible truth. Yoo Bin then becomes engaged to Sung Woo. Hae Mi loves Han Sae, although I would question the degree of that love when it is mixed up with all of her craziness. Finally, we have Sung Woo’s Secretary Yoon Jung Min (played by Hwang In Young) who is in love with her boss and does questionable things in order to protect that love.
The drama begins with the sister-brother duo, Yoo Bin and Yoo Chul. The two siblings lost their parents when they were young children, and Yoo Chul has spent the last decade caring and providing for his younger sister. Yoo Chul is both a mother and father to his younger sister, and Yoo Bin adores and hurts for her older brother whenever he gets hurt boxing. Yoo Chul’s dream is to win a boxing championship and pay for his sister’s college education. Yoo Bin is still in high school, but wants to give up her education so that her brother, who she believes to be the smart one, can go to college instead. She is ‘discovered’ by Joo Sung Woo, an ad exec, who asks her to do a camera test. While she feels complimented, Yoo Bin chooses to go to her brother’s boxing match rather than the screen test.
Due to a bullying classmate (Seo Ji Soo, who wanted to fight Yoo Bin) and a brown-nosing classmate (Oh Hae Mi, who reported Yoo Bin to the teacher), she misses the championship match. In the boxing match, Yoo Chul is badly beaten by his rival, Han Sae. He dies soon thereafter from a brain bleed. Yoo Bin arrives too late to save him and is forced to say goodbye to her only relative. Joo Sung Woo is there to comfort her and help her with the funeral arrangements. Lee Han Sae is the hero of this drama, and catches glimpses of Yoo Bin with her brother and is captivated by her eagerness and passion. When he learns that his actions caused the death of another man, Han Sae is heartbroken and decides to give up boxing. Han Sae enlists in the army and goes off to do his obligatory time, hoping that the hard labor will help him atone for his sins.
Years later, Yoo Bin meets and becomes friend with Lee Han Sae, who she believes to be her brother’s friend. Quickly beginning to call him “oppa”, she eagerly learns boxing from him and begins to lean on him in hard times. What she does not know is that Han Sae is the boxer who beat her brother in the ring, hurting him so badly that he died. Han Sae, in turn, sees this opportunity to once again atone for his actions. He promises himself that he will become the brother that Yoo Bin lost and will care for her as her real brother would have. In the time that the two spend together, they slowly fall in love, even kissing at one point. Han Sae backs off, asserting that he only sees Yoo Bin as a younger sister, and the two continue on as before, but with a new awareness of each other.
One by one, the people around the two are alternately pleased and incensed about the relationship between Han Sae and Yoo Bin. While Yoo Bin’s friends Mi Ra (played by Lim Seong Eon), who is involved in her own cringe-inducing triangle, and Ae Ri (played by Jo Hye Ryun) rejoice in Yoo Bin falling in love for the first time, others are not so happy with the romance. Jo Sung Woo does a little digging on Han Sae’s past and discovers a recording of the match between Han Sae and Yoo Chul. When he realizes that Han Sae was the reason that Yoo Chul died, he passively threatens Han Sae about telling the truth to Yoo Bin. Jo Sung Woo has spent this entire time trying to convince Yoo Bin to become a model, and he uses all of his resources and funds to make her his company’s next model. He also tries to entice her with the things that wealth could buy her.
Our resident psycho, Hae Mi, has fallen in instant “love” with Han Sae. And alternately tries to sweet talk or blackmail him into dating her. And he, our brainless hero, falls into line every single time. At one point, she threatens to kick Yoo Bin out of her newly-acquired boxing gym unless Han Sae dates her. Han Sae spends the next few days following her around, but Hae Mi still doesn’t allow Yoo Bin back. Let’s forget that there are other gyms out there. Or that you really only need a punching bag and a jump rope to train. (That’s how they show it in the drama). But this woman, after taking boxing and Han Sae away from Yoo Bin, decides to go the extra mile and destroy Yoo Bin’s world.
Hae Mi claims to hate Yoo Bin because Yoo Bin “has taken everything from [her]” and is her “lifetime enemy”. She manipulates Secretary Yoon to get the tape of the killer match, and Secretary Yoon hands it over because she wants to protect her boss at all costs from Yoo Bin, the vixen. While she is at it, she also hands over their advertising material to Hae Mi, ensuring that Sung Woo also loses out on the ad campaign he would have gotten and loses billions in the process, sending him to the brink of bankruptcy. Hae Mi then sends the tape to Yoo Bin anonymously, and Yoo Bin’s world comes crashing down around her.
Somewhere between episodes 1 and 10, Hae Mi gets Yoo Bin in trouble at school, takes away boxing, takes away Han Sae, has Yoo Bin’s mobile restaurant impounded, crushes Yoo Bin’s modeling career before it ever really took off, and destroys her peace. And yet, everyone is still trying to placate this witch. Even when she has Han Sae kidnapped so he won’t be able to attend Yoo Bin’s match, he tries to make her understand instead of swatting her aside and going on his merry way. He even apologizes to the crazy woman the next time he sees her for being too abrupt at the scene of his own kidnapping.
Yoo Bin is shocked and disgusted by the truth that Han Sae was her brother’s killer, unable to deal with the fact that she betrayed her real brother by idealizing Han Sae. She turns her back on Han Sae and boxing, seeking to punish herself for falling in love with him. She leaves her life behind, moving in with Sung Woo and selling off her mobile restaurant to cut off all ties with her past. When she is unable to become a model, Sung Woo decides to turn her into a pro boxer, thinking that it will better chances as a model. He then asks Han Sae to train Yoo Bin, claiming that Han Sae knows her better than anyone else.
Han Sae has spent the time since Yoo Bin’s discovery drinking himself into an early grave. He is depressed once more, and is only able to focus on the fact that he killed someone and has lost Yoo Bin, the only light in his life. In coaching Yoo Bin again, Han Sae sees this as an opportunity to get close to Yoo Bin once more and tries to make her understand why he hid the truth. But Yoo Bin and Sung Woo only want Han Sae for his training abilities. When Yoo Bin wins her pro-making match, she reaches out to hug Sung Woo, breaking Han Sae’s heart once more.
In the meantime, Secretary Yoon has quit because she feels guilty about her stupidity. Although, she does do one good thing by throwing a glass of water in Hae Mi’s face before leaving. To show us that this rotten apple hasn’t fallen far from the diseased tree, we see Hae Mi’s mother step in and destroy Sung Woo for daring to turn down her company’s advertising campaign. She then swoops in to ‘save’ the company by offering to inject it with cash, but wants Sung Woo to sign over 51% of the shares. Before Sung Woo can sell his soul to the devil, Secretary Yoon walks back in and saves the day. Yoo Bin gets to become a model for a contract that Secretary Yoon has brought in.
Han Sae almost quits upon hearing that Yoo Bin has been modeling instead of resting due to an injury before the championships. He decides to quit, but then steps back in to give one final lesson to Yoo Bin. Making her watch her brother’s match, he points out to her that she needs to be stronger in order to become a champion. She begs him to remain her coach, telling him that he is free to walk away once she wins the championship. Yoo Bin’s behavior changes a bit towards Han Sae, and she is able to accept him as a coach. After getting into the finals, Yoo Bin hesitantly invites Han Sae to go to the sauna with her. Hae Mi jumps in and ruins the whole thing by dragging Han Sae away as if he was a little child, and this great big hulking man quietly follows!
In the championships, Hae Mi has another chance to play her mind games on the puny humans around her. She gets Seo Ji Soo (Yoo Bin’s rival in the finals) to drink something, which is some sort of illegal drug not unlike steroids, which then helps Ji Soo win the championship match against Yoo Bin. Secretary Yoon catches them and quickly picks up the packaging. Yoo Bin loses the match, and is sad about it. She sees this as a sign to give up boxing for good. Yoo Bin throws her brother’s gloves into the river once more. She had initially thrown them in the ocean after his death, but the gloves had come back. Having asked Han Sae to be with her at this time for one final thank you, she asks him if he was so nice to her in the past out of his guilt. When he admits that it probably was due to guilt, she kisses him in return for the kiss he gave her so long ago and walks away. She tells him that she will forget from here on out, and he promises that he won’t hold her back because there is nothing else he can do for her.
Han Sae tells Hae Mi to stop following him, and that he will never love her. Hae Mi hugs him in response, and, rather than pushing her off to get his point across, he lets her. He thus cancels out any good he might have done by telling her that he would never love her. Ji Soo does confess to the steroid use, in response to the support she gets from Mi Ra, Yoon Pyo and Heung Su after her breast cancer surgery, and the truth comes out about Hae Mi’s involvement. She has to stop working as a model due to some backlash. Rather than going into hiding, Hae Mi vows to get revenge on Ji Soo and Yoo Bin.
Yoo Bin becomes the champion, but this means nothing to her because she is now a “model”, and Han Sae has to give up, realizing that Yoo Bin has truly moved on.
After Yoo Bin’s boxing commercial releases, a scandal soon follows at Hae Mi’s mother’s instigation, revealing that Yoo Bin and Sung Woo are living together. At Yoo Bin’s celebration, Hae Mi, who has followed Han Sae to the party, gleefully tells Yoo Bin that she will soon be engaged to Han Sae. In retaliation, Yoo Bin says yes to Sung Woo’s proposal. She refuses to explain herself to Han Sae, and he is dragged out by Sung Woo’s lackeys. Secretary Yoon begs Yoo Bin not to use Sung Woo to forget Han Sae, but Yoo Bin stubbornly insists that she loves Sung Woo.
Han Sae begins drinking again, worrying all his friends and family. Yoo Bin is guilted into coming back and calls him a loser, womanizer, and drunkard. She challenges him to prove his manhood by coming back to boxing and winning. On the day of the match, Yoo Bin leaves her engagement party to see Han Sae for a final time. Realizing that she almost lost him, she opens herself to loving him once more and the two run off.
Months go by. Yoo Bin’s friend Ae Ri chooses her coworker and they get married. Mi Ra chooses Yoon Pyo, and officially breaks it off with Heung Su. Heung Su chooses to be with Seo Ji Soo because she needs him. Therefore, we close off a few more vapid triangles that did nothing for the story.
Hae Mi is gently told by Han Sae’s mother to let him go. She tells Hae Mi about her own love. She was the “Hae Mi” in that scenario, blindly following the man she loved. She became pregnant, but still had to let her love go because he was in love with someone else. It was a mother’s way of saying that no matter how far Hae Mi went with Han Sae, Han Sae would only ever love Yoo Bin. I guess we are to assume that Hae Mi took that to heart and backed off.
Some time later, Han Sae and Yoo Bin are found by Sung Woo at the seaside. Here Yoo Bin officially breaks off the engagement with Sung Woo, apologizing to him. Sung Woo walks away, with Secretary Yoon closely following behind. The two lovebirds say thank you to Yoo Bin’s brother in the phone booth and hug.
I have had this drama on my hard drive for years, wanting to watch it but unable to do so because I did not have the subtitles. I did skim through it without the subtitles and was able to guess at the main points and quite enjoyed it at the time. Recently, I found out that a fansub group had completed soft subs for the drama, and I happily downloaded them to watch the drama with subtitles. Actually knowing what was being said ruined the drama for me, and I have concluded that this is NOT a drama worth keeping.
The drama itself had a mixed batch of actors, and while some did well in their roles, others were too banal, too lifeless or too over the top to allow me to take any pleasure in the acting component. Joo Jin Mo and Shin Min Ah were capable in their roles, and were restrained for the most part. Although, even they were sometimes let down by the overly trite writing. Sung Si Kyung was horrible starting out in this drama. He made me cringe every time he played the cool sophisticate, coming off as more sarcastic and snarky than anything. By the end though, he had improved somewhat, allowing me to see his sincerity. So Yi Hyun was over the top in too many scenes for her acting to be called anything but bad. Although, I don’t know whether it was all because she was forced to act badly due to the writing or because she herself was unable to act any better than that. Lim Seong Eon, the actress playing Mi Ra, was just plain bad and made her character completely unbelievable. And other actors seemed to be sleepwalking through their roles. Thus, the acting was a definite minus in this drama.
The overall writing of the drama was trite and bland. We seemed to stick to the surface, and any time the writer attempted to go beneath that surface, we were hit with dialogue that was so cheesy and bland, you felt sorry for the actors mouthing these words. The setup of this drama about a young girl falling in love with her brother’s killer could have lead to some great dramatic scenes and angst, but in the end we were left with an over the top melo with questionable twists.
Mi Ra’s quadrangle with Heung Su, Yoon Pyo and Ji Soo drove me crazy! Why the heck did we have this girl in the drama who couldn’t make up her mind, and yet that was treated as normal? Why did we have so much stalkerish behavior going on? Which was also treated as normal. It is NOT normal for a girl to follow her crush or to conspire with his estranged mother because she thinks it’s right. It’s not normal for another girl to kidnap the guy she likes and have him wake up in a hotel room with her, where he tries to talk her down from her psychotic tendencies rather than calling her out on how far she’s gone. It isn’t normal for a boss and staff to beg a secretary, who betrayed her employer, to come back and save the company. And it isn’t normal for her to come back and start working there as if nothing has happened. It also certainly isn’t normal for the men in this drama to make decisions left and right for the women they want to date, or for the women to be physically abusive or controlling of the men they want to date. But this writer treated all of this as normal by showing us that the characters themselves considered it normal. No one protested any of the above behavior.
Even when we were at the really emotional scenes, for example when Yoo Bin found out about Han Sae or when Han Sae was drinking due to losing Yoo Bin, the characters mouthed such trite lines that I felt more irritation for their inability to move on rather than any sympathy for their plight. Finally, everyone around them treated the death and the cause of it as no big deal. Ae Ri and Mi Ra tried to set the two of them up multiple times. Sung Woo and Hae Mi also used it for their own benefit, but no one really got how big a deal it was except for Yoo Bin and Han Sae. Even then, Han Sae’s character quickly started dreaming about being with Yoo Bin. The writer couldn’t decide how much weight to give this act, and because of that, the characters acted as if it was nothing and everything alternately!
Han Sae was our hero, but he was weak and passive. Not only did he start drinking at every little thing, which is not admirable in it of itself, but he allowed himself to be dragged around by Hae Mi like a puppet. She was always pulling his strings, dragging him around, and hurting the woman he loved verbally and emotionally, and this man did not have the strength to stop Hae Mi or protect Yoo Bin. He was the worst kind of hero there can be, because his words of love are just that. Words. He could never get Hae Mi to back off of hurting Yoo Bin or of dragging him around. Useless.
Yoo Bin was pretty sympathetic throughout. She had lost her brother, so she got a lot of leeway in terms of her actions and being mean to Han Sae. But she definitely crossed the line when she used Sung Woo to push Han Sae away. For a character to hurt someone else just so that they can be protected is a villainous thing to do, and Yoo Bin did it. Therefore, she lost a lot of points at that point. In the end, when she ran off in the MIDDLE of the engagement party, even when Sung Woo and her friends had urged her before, and then ran off with Han Sae without officially breaking it off with Sung Woo was just despicable, and I lost any sympathy that I might have had for this wishy-washy character.
The character of Hae Mi was the most hateful character that I have seen to date in dramas. She hates this poor orphan girl, for no reason that I can see, and spends her life making this girl’s life hell. She is able to manipulate every single person she comes into contact with, with the exception of Sung Woo, and uses them to hurt Yoo Bin over and over. That is not reality. Why should every single person fall under Hae Mi’s powers of mind control? Even Han Sae, our hero, is roped into dating and kissing Hae Mi for some reason. There is no reason for this character to hate Yoo Bin. There is no reason for this character to have this much power over the others she comes into contact with. There is no reason accept the writer said so, and thus it was so. It was lazy writing, and a horrible character that pretty much learned nothing even at the end.
The music of the drama isn’t anything that great, unless you consider the song “Arayo.” It is a beautifully sung piece, with the lyrics matching the angst of our character, Han Sae, to the T. It is something that I enjoyed listening to before I knew the meaning. It is something that I appreciated even more once I knew what was being said.
But one good song does not a good drama make. I liked this drama until I learned what was being said. It went from being a good drama to being a hot mess. I would give this drama a 4/10 and would suggest that audiences give it a skip. 😦