Mr. Iron Palm (2003) Movie Review

The South Korean movie “Mr. Iron Palm” is an undeniable Romantic Comedy, and as such its ending is inevitable from the opening frame. We know, for instance, that Korean expatriate Iron Palm (In-Pyo Cha) will have trouble convincing the love of his life, fellow expatriate Jini (Yoon-jin Kim), to accept him back into her life after a 5 year absence; but we also know that before the final credits role, she will have realized he’s the perfect man for her and cast off the jerk that has been vying for her affections. Of course, the jerk is a rich guy with fancy clothes and cars, but none of the humility and charm of our hero, thus the audience’s insistence that Jini dump the jerk for the hero, which she will of course do so they can kiss in the end and everyone will live happily ever after. Get all that?

All of the above being said, “Mr. Iron Palm” is a very funny comedy from beginning to end, which immediately puts it heads above its brethrens. There are a number of funny scenes, like when the improbably named Admiral (Charles Chun), the third person in the love triangle, takes out his frustration on his employees by ripping up the clothes they had just sewn. Very funny stuff, especially when Admiral encounters a pair of jeans that he can’t tear and resorts to other measures to destroy them, none of which works. You see, the employees are so used to having their clothes being ripped by their ill-tempered boss that they’ve made the clothes super tough!

There is also a running gag about Iron Palm’s method of martial arts training: by shoving his hands into a steaming rice cooker (a device that he guards like a precious jewel) in order to harden his hands. You see, Iron Palm fancies himself a martial artist, even though he’s not much of a fighter. In one scene, Iron Palm takes on a Tae Kwon Do instructor in a bid to become gainfully employed, only to be unceremoniously defeated. In another scene, he’s easily beaten by a group of teenagers not old enough to shave.

Yoon-jin Kim plays the love interest, the woman in the middle of Iron Palm and Admiral. Kim only needs to be two things: sympathetic and pretty. She manages both well enough, although she’s prettier than she is sympathetic, but who cares when she ends up making the “right” choice (at least to the audience) by the end of the film? Even though Kim’s role is limited, I liked that Jini was not drowning in sugar, and actually had an edge to her. She’s a little selfish and more than a little ambitious, and Iron Palm’s feelings definitely ranks lower than her own.

And what would a Romantic Comedy be without sidekicks? Jini has Gloria and Iron Palm has Dong-seo. Admiral, of course, has no comedic sidekick because, as we all know, villains in Romantic Comedies don’t need sidekicks. Luckily for writer/director Sang-ho Yuk he’s cast the right actor in Charles Chun, who is just perfect as the jerk boyfriend who has everything. Admiral doesn’t really love Jini, he just wants her more now because Iron Palm is also after her. As he confesses after Jini has an accident and ends up in the hospital with a cast on her leg, he’d rather see her dead than be with Iron Palm. Not a very nice guy, and Chun plays it just right.

For a South Korean production, it’s surprising that “Mr. Iron Palm” is shot entirely in the States, and the majority of its dialogue is in English. Subtitles are not necessary and Chun’s Admiral speaks completely in English (the character is Americanized and doesn’t speak Korean). The look of the film and the camerawork are pluses, and I’m shocked to find that the cinematographer is Philip Lee, the man behind the shockingly bad “Route 666.” Glad to see the improvement, Mister Lee.

“Mr. Iron Palm” is nothing new, but it’s certainly better than what I expected. The comedy is quite good and I laughed for much of the film. There were no language barriers to interfere with the jokes, a problem I’ve had with many South Korean comedies. The English dialogue is sometimes too stilted, reminding me that a non-American wrote them. But other than that, “Mr. Iron Palm” is mostly funny and charming, and better than expected. What more could you ask for in your Romantic Comedies?

Sang-ho Yuk (director) / Sang-Hyo Yook (screenplay)
CAST: In-Pyo Cha …. Iron Palm
Yoon-jin Kim …. Ji-ni
Kwang-jung Park …. Dong-seok
Charles Chun …. Admiral
Angelinas Santana …. Gloria

Buy Mr. Iron Palm on DVD