Nao Tsuyama (Shogen) was an amateur Japanese boxer from Okinawa who wore a prosthesis on his right leg which was lost after a bad car accident. This disability did not deter him from pursuing his dream to be a professional boxer. However, he had been repeatedly been denied a professional boxing license in Japan because of a perceived safety issue. He thought of going to the Philippines to try his luck of turning pro there.
He joined the Gensan Punch boxing gym in General Santos City, and got along well with his fellow Filipino trainees despite the language barrier. He trained under Coach Rudy (Ronnie Lazaro), who was an international champion himself back in his heyday. In order to qualify for a professional license, he needed to win three consecutive matches to qualify. If he lost one match, the count is reset back to zero.
It was a typical boxing underdog movie in structure, only this one was actually based on the career path of a real-life Japanese boxer who had a prosthetic leg. All the scenes you'd expect to see in a boxing film was here. There were several training montages. There was a part about a young boxer who incurred a very serious injury during a fight which would cost him his life. There was an instance of game fixing to assure a victory.
Japanese actor Shogen had looks that reflected Tsuyama's half-Caucasian, half-Japanese parentage. He is already 43 years old so he looked older than the boxers he fought, but he made up for this with his lean fit body and youthful energy. The special effects of his amputated leg was done well, even including a full-body shot of his back side, in the nude, without the leg.
As Coach Rudy, Ronnie Lazaro was being typical Ronnie Lazaro. The presence of Beauty Gonzales (as gym manager Melissa) was barely felt.
This is director Brillante Mendoza's first stab at a sports drama movie. Even if the usual tropes of such a film were all there, the trademark social realism expected of a Brillante Mendoza film can still be seen as a side note. The boxing scenes are brutal, with each round practically playing out in real time, but some of them may feel long in the context of a film.
Mendoza's "tribute to boxers" had more Japanese zen than Filipino melodrama.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, “Fred Said.”