In person: star Choi Min-Sik!

An unjustly neglected minor league masterpiece. Director Ryoo Seung-Wan (City of VIolence) and star Choi Min-Sik (Nameless Gangster) have made what might be the great Asian boxing movie with Crying Fist. A selection of the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, it puts together two powerhouse actors (Choi Min-Sik, then most famous for his performance in Oldboy, and the director’s brother, Ryoo Seung-Beom, who is all simmering rage and coiled anger) to make a movie as invigorating and painful as a punch in the face.

Choi plays a boxer at the end of his run. Middle age hasn’t been kind, and he’s been reduced to renting himself out as a human punching bag—frustrated men get to beat him to a pulp at a rate of $10 for one minute, and frustrated women get to pound on him for two. On the other side of town, rage-junkie Ryoo gets introduced to boxing while in juvenile lock-up. It hits him like an epiphany: instead of beating people up on the streets and getting arrested, he can beat people up in the ring and get paid.

Both men are losers on downward trajectories—these are the kind of guys who don’t need any enemies except themselves. And then they both sign up for a super lightweight fight whose prize purse offers them one shot at redemption. But there are two boxers who desperately need a second chance, and only one prize. Do the math: they’re going to have to fight each other.

Neither character knows the other, and they don’t meet during the entire movie, but director Ryoo turns the standard rah-rah sports film dynamic on its head. Usually we root for the underdog and cheer when Rocky beats Apollo Creed, but in Crying Fist both men are the underdog, and we’re pulling for both of them. With this film, Ryoo turned in his first truly great movie, a smart, visceral boxing film where no matter how hard they fight, everyone’s a loser, because life itself is the ultimate rigged match.