CHAMPION (2002)


Director: Kyung Taek Kwak
Actors: oh-seong yu, Min-seo chae, seung-won yun
Genre: Sports; boxing based on a true story

CHAMPION is based on the tragic life story of Deuk-Gu Kim, an impoverished south korean boy who struggles through hardships of day to day life to eventually blossom into a refreshing young adult with positive traits of perseverance, honor, loyalty, heart, & courage. Champion is the familiar story of Korea’s number one son, & most prized boxer in their nation who lost his life in the boxing ring to WBA Lightweight champion, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini on November 13, 1982 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Kim’s biography starts off like a real life korean Rocky, but unfortunately the ending is heartbreaking.
The movie begins with a re-enactment of Kim & Boom Boom Mancini in the outdoor ring of Caesar’s Palace on that fatal day. The opening bell rings & the two pugilists clash with a synchronized trading of blows of the right cross variety that met each others head at the same time. The moving image freezes at this point & the story segues into Kim as a young boy. The film concentrates on Deuk Gu Kim as a young boy hustling in the streets to make a buck whether it’s using his charm for free transportation to selling books to giving blood for cash. His military order is based on only the strong survive & his astonishing skill to absorb punishment(mentally & physically) without flinching was his specialty which in the end proved to be his downfall. Gang beatings, & adolescent physical confrontations were endured by Kim as his tolerance for pain seemed to be at an all time high. His second new chance in life surfaced when he was introduced to the Dong Ah Boxing club. The boxing club’s trainer would soon find out that he had the strength of a bull & the heart of a lion when training in the gym. Kim would spar in the ring with far more talented boxers in the club & got a royal beatdown, face bloodied & all, but he would always maintain his composure & be coherent. The trainer would provide much discipline & focus for him as he respected the coach like a father figure. Kim would work his way up from the lower ranks of the gym while maintaining a job at the steel/iron factory. The trainer’s motivational speeches to his boxing warriors & favorite quotes from the movie always entailed the definition of being a REAL champion which includes:

“Be the best that you can be in whatever you do.”
“Every profession is equally honorable.”
“Being a champion is a state of mind.”
“This is a mark of a true champion.”
“Boxing is a fight against yourself!”

Kim rose to the top & earned much respect from other boxing clubs in South Korea. Competing gyms even started paying him to fight their top prospects. He would earn extra money if he could withstand the punishment from these foes. Fight after fight, Deuk Gu would remain standing & after a while, he started dishing 5 fisted leather back at his opponents which they couldn’t bare as they started dropping like maggots. Don King equivalent like promoters from Korea wanted a piece of Kim, but the brotherhood & bond of his club mates would prove to be too strong as he remained loyal to Dong Ah. Another predictable side “bon chon” was added to the story when love was introduced to the crime scene. Kim would fall madly in love with a young lady that would lead him to court her even at the house of worship despite her fathers disdain of ‘hurt men’. He would try to fight this feeling of love as he looked at written quotes on his wall that state:

“A woman is a hindrance in life.”

This quote would soon be dismissed as Deuk Gu Kim would eat up another bambi in the ring & gain the Lightweight All Asia Championship belt! Kim’s new quote on his wall had been modified to:

“A woman is a stepping stone in life!”

All seems well as a hand in marriage is soon in place & his boxing career is in full blossom! Having the pull of being the lightweight champion in asia, Kim’s coach was able to negotiate a fight with the promoter of Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini to fight for Mancini’s WBA’s lightweight heavyweight title. 21 year old Boom Boom would be pitted against the 23 year old Korean for a world title fight in las vegas! Unfortunately, we all know the tragic outcome of this fight & the results that lingered afterwards. Full of spirit, heart, & ‘soul’ of Korea, Kim Deuk-Gu would eventually lose his life to a 14th round TKO punch. The accumulation of 14 rounds of brutal punishment offered between the two & the heat of Las Vegas were probable causes. If this wasn’t heartwrenching enough, Kim’s mom would commit suicide months later, & the referee of the fight would take his life as well. These suicides were not told in the movie. This fight between these pugilist warriors would change the rules of boxing to decrease the rounds of boxing from 15 to 12. Despite the grim outcome of the fight, there was a hint of sunshine at the end of the movie that shined for a moment which you have to see for yourself, no spoilers here!
I really enjoyed this movie because the story focused on celebrating Kim Deuk-Gu’s life as opposed to concentrating on his death. Kim most certainly gave it his all, bared his heart, showed his soul, & even threw in the kitchen sink but unfortunately, that was a bit too much in this case. CHAMPION is far from a rags to riches, Dr. Feel good film, but it does provide great insight to a man that the characters from the WIZARD OF OZ: the LION & the TIN MAN could only wish they can be more like.

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