While the Australian film industry is getting to have quite a rich library of queer films, New Zealand hasn't jumped on the bandwagon to the same degree. Representation is so important and that just doesn't come from showing the queer community as just being American or Australian; we need queer cinema to showcase cultures from all over the world.
In 'Punch', Jim (Jordan Oosterhof, TV's 'Shortland Street') is training for his first professional fight under the watchful eye of his dad (Tim Roth, 'The Hateful Eight', 'Selma'). At the end of his school life, Jim starts to question it all when he meets gay Maori boy, Whetu (Conan Hayes, TV's 'Sweet Tooth'), at his beach shack.
'Punch' never quite lives up to its promise. It feels as though just by having queer characters the film thinks it will win over the audience, but there isn't much substance here to relate to. It's hard to fall for Jim and Whetu as we barely spend time with them together, and it's not until the third act that anything between them really happens. The boxing also feels so inconsequential and provides little conflict.
Gay media often feels the need to show trauma, which can be a part of being a queer person, but we also lead happy lives and few films or TV series actually showcase this. In 'Punch', there is a pretty vivid scene of a hate crime being inflicted on one of the main characters. While this is important to address, its effect on the rest of the film is so minimal that it feels to be there more for shock value rather than to enhance the story.
It feels as though just by having queer characters the film thinks it will win over the audience, but there isn't much substance here to relate to.
The performances are great across the board. A surprise Tim Roth in one of his more reserved roles was great as the absentee dad, and lead Jordan Oosterhof was very enjoyable in the role. Conan Hayes however steals the show; his work as Whetu is what truly saves the film from being a throwaway, and he is sure to become a forefront in New Zealand cinema.
Even though 'Punch' doesn't fully come together and, more often than not, just throws something at the screen hoping that it sticks, it's important as one of the rare queer stories to come from our neighbours in New Zealand. Let's hope we don't have to wait quite as long for the next one.