Original Title: アベックパンチ
Director: Furusawa Takeshi
Isaki (Makita Tetsuya) and Hiramasa (Suzunosuke) are two hoodlums who love to pick fights. One day, while goofing around in town, they bump shoulders with a couple on a date, who quickly apologize. Not satisfied with a mere apology, the two try to instigate a fight. However, joining hands together to form a single punch, the couple surprise Hiramasa and knock him out before running off.
Unbeknownst to the two thugs, the couple are the reigning champions of Avec, a new professional sport similar to kickboxing, but with a twist. Matches are fought two on two, with a pair consisting of one boy and one girl. A fight ends when a pair are knocked out or their hands are separated. Isaki and Hiramasa eventually find themselves training in this new sport.
Japan has produced many great underdog stories, from Ping Pong to Oppai Volleyball. Now here we have Avec Punch, which aspires to be placed among them. Because of its outrageous fictional sport, we can tell that it’s an adaptation of a manga, and the one it adapts was written by Time Ryosuke.
The biggest thing that defines an underdog sports story is the motivation or intentions of the lead character – what drives them to win, what kind of rival are they trying to overcome, and most importantly, what they have to prove. Whether its trying to motivate your teammate to have a passion for the sport, or aiming for the chance to view your cute teacher’s boobies, the lead characters’ motivations are understandable, sympathetic, and for the most part, one we all can cheer.
That being said, your bound to run into a lot of trouble when you try to understand the motivation of Avec Punch‘s leads. For the most part, they stumbled upon the sport after getting their asses handed to them by pros. Isaki and Hiramasa had no interest in learning the sport of Avec at first, and really only started because Kajiki (Kishi Kentaro), their trainer, started pushing them to join after watching the two unsuccessfully try to instigate a brawl with the champions.
One would expect the story to build upon some rivalry between the two groups, but unfortunately it isn’t that clever. As a matter of fact, there is almost no rivalry angle in the story. We are left caring little about Isaki and Hiramasa’s road to glory. While most other underdog sports movies use rivalry to build up anticipation for the final match, we are dumbfounded at how a final batch between the two friends with their partners, played by Ayami Misaki and Takeda Rina came to be.
We also have no idea why Kajiki even wanted to train the two hoodlums.He isn’t a has-been who is looking for redemption. There isn’t a rival trainer who to prove himself to. There isn’t even a bet he made which involves if he can make a championship winning pair out of nobodies. With no cliched background as a coach archetype, Kajiki is just some random guy who the leads meet on the streets.
The film has a habit of taking random characters with no real connection to the lead characters or the sport and trying to make them important. This happens with Mabel (Misaki Ayame), who wasn’t even an athlete at all. She just happened to be around when Isaki was looking for a partner.
This is also the case with Etsu (Takeda Rina), who replaces Hiramasa’s old partner when she is taken away by random men in black. Wait what? Was she an illegal immigrant? An international spy? An alien? We may never know what happened to her.
Now let’s talk about the sport of Avec, which is less exciting than your average contact sport. It involves a couple joining hands together like they’re on a date and fighting with another pair. Though it is probably something really cool drawn in a comic, it is not only a cheap way to build a romantic plot, but it is also something that looks far from believable when not performed by real people.
The punches and kicks performed by the actors are laughably slow, making it look like they are pushing each other around with their fists rather than fighting. A few neat tricks are performed by Takeda, a karate practitioner in real life, and Misaki, who has much experience performing action. But, there is so much awkwardness that it takes us out of the fictional sport’s world and takes us into one of play fights and kids pretending to be Ralph Macchio.
Overall, viewers will find an awkward comedy beneath this underdog sports story. What takes the cake even more is that the actors, especially Suzunosuke, perform with every inch of fiber in their being, fully embracing the campiness. But unlike your average sports movie, Avec Punch won’t make you want to go out and play a few rounds of the sport.
Or maybe it will, just so you can see how ridiculous it can get.
Watch this film…
…if you have the need to watch every Misaki Ayame and/or Takeda Rina film under the sun.