Parental pressure, sexual perplexity and small-town bigotry are the simmering undercurrents of Kiwi filmmaker Welby Ings’ beautifully shot feature debut featuring Oscar Nominee Tim Roth. Punch premiered at last year’s NZ International Film Festival.
Seventeen-year-old boxer Jim carries the hopes and dreams of his father on his shoulders, but his growing relationship with local takatāpui Whetu forces him to confront the truth about his sexuality and choose his own future. But his father, Stan (Tim Roth), is a demanding coach and a notorious alcoholic, and Stan has given everything to see his son gain professional status and escape the brutality of his small world.
Jim and Whetu’s relationship of self-discovery threatens to take them beyond parental disapproval or career derailment when the spectre of homophobia violently punctures the rural town’s sepia-hued facade of tolerance. Shot against the black sand backdrop of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s West Coast beaches, Punch presents a vision of rural Aotearoa New Zealand life in which parochial attitudes and nostalgic aesthetics sit discordantly alongside modern youth culture and progressive ideals.
Away from the rainbow flags and Pride parades, Jim and Whetu must navigate isolation, hypocrisy, the brutality of small-town boxing, and an anonymous queer bashing that no one will talk about. As Jim stumbles towards discovering what it really is to be a gay man, he is forced to see that strength has little to do with heroism.
In a world that pretends that being gay is accepted, this film peels back the veneer of tolerance to show just what exists under the surface.
A Director’s Vision – Welby Ings
“Punch had been in development for a long time, and I had never let go of the determination to bring it into the light. It sits in the context of films like Moonlight, where sexuality and bullying in a coming-of-age narrative are used to explore the vulnerability and beauty of the human condition.
Although it is Jim’s story, this is really the story of anybody who has fought to find their place in the world, even when this means losing the things that keep you safe. Punch looks at love in an unusual way. It is essentially two connected love stories: one between a father and his son and the other between two young men.
Jim, Stan, and Whetu are all flawed, but despite their clumsy handling of relationships with each other, they are all good men. We feel for them, and we want their lives to go in the right direction. When Whetu and Jim show us that they are free, that they have become strong and sensitive, but separate men, our struggles with them and our hopes for them reach an unpredicted kind of triumph.”
Introducing Jim and Whetu
Jordan Oosterhof (Jim) makes his feature film debut in Punch. Trained in the Meisner Technique under veteran teacher and actor Michael Saccente, Jordan has worked across TV commercials, theatre, and television, including Shortland Street and The Cul de Sac, and short film Best Friend.
Conan Hayes (Whetu) is of New Zealand Māori descent and graduated from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School in 2018. Since graduating, he has starred as the lead in the local web series Burbs, along with acting in Flat Three Productions’ web series Meme. Conan features in the US fantasy series Sweet Tooth on Netflix, with other television credits including It’s TV Man and The Wilds. Conan’s film credits include the short film Hush, and he is also an extremely versatile stage actor and dancer, having performed in Rushes, The Visit and a lead role in Once On This Island. Punch is his first feature film.
“A beautiful way to spend a few hours. Punch is a tough, moving and confident piece of filmmaking.” – Graeme Tuckett, Stuff.co.nz
Punch premieres on Sky’s Rialto Channel, Saturday 27 May, 8.30pm. Encore screenings are also scheduled throughout June on Rialto Channel. All information at rialtochannel.co.nz.