[HanCinema's Film Review] "Holy Punch"

Boss Jang (played by the highly recognizable Kim Byung-ok) is a gangster who we're led to believe couldn't have been that bad a guy, since the main thing he wants to do on his birthday is have a bunch of orphans sing Happy Birthday to him. Alas, Kim Byung-ok appears to be in this movie mostly as a favor. The action quickly moves away from him and over to Gyeong-cheol (played by Oh Dae-hwan), who's forced to take refuge in a rundown church as he plots his next move.


There's also Tae-yong (played by Lee Yong-kyu-I) who shelters at a Buddhist temple. And finally, the cop Do-pil (played by Ji Seung-hyun) who doesn't really need to hide from anyone, but in order to complete the film's trinity of divine humor, Do-pil is possessed by a ghost girl and is functionally treated as if he were a traditional Korean shaman. These three team up to go after Boss Hwang (played by Kim Jung-tae), whose main motivation isn't really crime so much as it is trying to get social media followers.

"Holy Punch" pretty much just consists of one-note character descriptions like this that sort of lead to jokes, sometimes. The sense of humor in this film is fairly old-fashioned, to the point I'm not sure it could appeal to anyone except the generation so elderly they remember when churches were the main pillar of every community. Not that "Holy Punch" itself is all that out of date. Gyeong-cheol's run-down church has hardly any parishioners, and the few kindly old men who even want a new pastor are all too eager to accept Gyeong-cheol in the role.

There's a certain wish fulfillment at play too, like in how Gyeong-cheol uses charisma, intimidation, and even just his remarkably good singing voice to whip various youngsters into shape as he and the other two members of the trinity have wacky situation comedy antics as they wait for...well, I'm not entirely sure why they were waiting so long, come to think of it. Did they not know where Boss Hwang's hideout was?

I wouldn't swear that "Holy Punch" never explains these particular plot details, but this is very much the kind of movie where the exact explanations for why characters do the things they do isn't important. Either you think it's funny watching a big bald guy like Tae-yong stumble around in a temple looking for hidden treasure or you don't. Boss Hwang has a love interest, less because he actually needs one, but because the whole idea of the big bad gangster villain acting like a clueless high schooler is moderately amusing.

"Holy Punch" is fairly inoffensive to organized religion writ large, and it's also inoffensive in general. This isn't exactly praise- with no obvious direction aside from setting up new situation comedy antics, the ninety minute runtime stretches on for a lot longer than you'd think. After a certain point the joke is more in the imagery than anything else, and if you haven't lived in South Korea, even the mild humor from that it probably lost on you.

Written by William Schwartz


"Holy Punch" is directed by Go Hoon, and features Oh Dae-hwan, Ji Seung-hyun, Lee Yong-kyu-I, Kim Jung-tae, Lee Young-joon-I, Seo Jae-woo. Release date in Korea: 2024/03/20.