Jang Eun-sil Report – Physical: 100 Episode #3

This is it. Finally, it’s Jang Eun-sil’s turn in the ring. Or the “arena,” but believe me, she turns it into a ring. Before we get there, the third episode opens with a resolution to last week’s cliffhanger, between Agent H and Seol Ki-hwan (I did a bit better with names this time). They have a pretty vicious fight, their shirtless bodies caked in mud almost immediately, and injury seems inevitable. Agent H takes the ball and performs a strategy we’ll see plenty more of: the turtle maneuver. He tucks the ball beneath his body, nice and safe, but it isn’t a done deal. Ki-hwan manages to get the ball loose and runs away with the game, despite not being favored to win. “I crushed him,” he says of Agent H, but feels bad all the same. Meanwhile, Agent H tells the camera, “The defeated have nothing to say,” with a chuckle.

The next round offers an interesting case, if the previous was between two evenly matched opponents. Yun Sung-bin is up, and he tells us he’s a “skeleton racer.” Thankfully, this guy is easily researched, as he’s an Olympic athlete who won gold in 2018 at Pyeongchang. Skeleton racing is “plummeting head-first down a steep and treacherous ice track on a tiny slide,” according to the Olympics website. It looks like that thing you do when you don’t know how to ride a skateboard but your neighborhood is full of hills. Probably different, though, as Sung-bin is incredibly built. Nobody wants to be chosen by him, and he ends up taking on Lee Dae-woon, a slender guy.

Dae-woon performs a high kick, which takes Jang by surprise. Sung-bin hates stuff like that. Turns out, this guy is a trot singer, but also an MMA champion? So this very well could be a case of body size and shape versus technique. Once they’re in the arena, Dae-woon identifies that he’s physically weaker than Sung-bin, so he just has to play keep-away. But three minutes is a long time. Eventually, Sung-bin grabs him and flips him over with one arm. Dae-woon begins to grapple and gets around his opponent, but Sung-bin just stands up, wearing him as a scarf. This time, body size/shape is victorious. True enough, MMA rules have no place here, unless Dae-woon was gonna start throwing out punches.

The third round of this episode is something of a repeat, but with diminished returns. Hong Beom-seok is disappointed with his performance in the hanging pre-quest, so he challenges himself by choosing one of the big dudes, Jo Jin-hyeong. This guy is a Strongest Man champion and sports a 20-inch neck. Beon-seok is a firefighter, and he’s a lot faster. You know what that means: get the ball first, keep-away. Unfortunately, like with a previous match, the plan initially fails. Jin-hyeong gets the ball and throws it into that same damn corner. He keeps saying that his strategy is to “mark” his opponent, which resembles a video game lock-on while he goaltends. Naturally, Beon-seok’s only recourse is to tire him out, but he isn’t moving fast enough.

So far, there aren’t a lot of tried and true methods for success, and as a contestant later remarks, “There are too many variables.” Even turtle isn’t the safest bet, because the opponent has the luxury of standing back to solve the problem. Wrestling is only good until time runs out, where even the dominant player has to rush out for the ball. In this case, when Jo Jin-hyeong goes for the ball in the end, Beon-seok has one last chance, but he gets thrown down into an obstacle. “He flung me to the side like I was a piece of paper,” he says. “Is this all I’m capable of?” This match shakes the rest of the contestants, a strategic assumption well challenged.

The episode then picks up the pace, running through a few matches that I thought might’ve been important, including three ethnic non-Koreans. Of them, Miracle, the Black guy, and Nippert, the baseball player, are victorious, but Florian, the white guy, is knocked out of the game. Also, we have the rare man versus woman match, and while the woman loses, we don’t really see how.

And then we slow down again for a title fight. I’m not sure why this happens, but Jang Eun-sil gets to pick her opponent. She winds her way through the bottom fifty with two qualifications: she’s looking for a woman, and she’s not looking for too much of a challenge. Unlike some of the other players who are in this for personal fulfillment, like that MMA woman who beat up her senior, Jang wants to win Physical: 100. Or so I thought. Of everyone, presumably including the taekwondo kid and the cheerleader, she goes for Kkang Mi, the special forces soldier. Oh, Jang! “Let’s have fun in the mud,” she tells her, and Kkang barks a military-style response. Jang!!

The whistle blows and Kkang does a somersault out of the gate and screams a war cry, which Jang brushes off with an emote. While Kkang gathers up the ball, Jang washes her arms in the muddy water. Maybe she wants a nice glisten for the cameras.

Kkang makes an early strategic error by safeguarding the ball inside tires to then face down the wrestler. It’s an early error that eventually becomes her final error. Jang immediately goes for the leg, and while it isn’t an instant takedown – it’s a takedown.

I’ll be honest, she makes a meal of this woman, which is satisfying from a fan perspective, but also quite scary. In the interview, Kkang says that she just couldn’t counter the moves. “One blink and I’m over here. Another blink and I’m over there. I’ve never been beaten like this in hand-to-hand combat.”

The crowd is impressed by Jang’s performance. “You can’t beat a wrestler,” one of the guys says. Indeed, Jang looks super cool as she’s lifting and slamming. But she’s alerted to the clock with one minute left and makes a break for the ball. Her game goes from wrestling to turtle, and when Kkang tries to kick the ball out, Jang squeezes her leg into it. Now she’s wrestling the ball into submission. With one second on the clock, Kkang tackles Jang, but it’s all for naught. Jang dominated this match from the jump. They high five and hug wrestle, which is cute, and I can finally exhale. “They’ll have realized that they can’t beat me in wrestling,” Jang says in the interview.

That may very well be the case, though she may be referring to non-wrestlers, but I doubt that the pursuant challenges are gonna play to Jang’s strengths quite like this one. And as relieved as I was, I also half-expected the outcome. For one thing, the interview segment gives it away like in the previous episode. “Being ex-military, she was very aggressive. But it won’t be easy to beat me,” Jang says, smiling in such a way that indicates she’s happy. Of course, the more damning smoking gun is what I woke up to this morning:

Now, I ask you, why would a mud-covered Jang Eun-sil be striking such a victory pose? And why would the song chosen for the post be entitled “Victory”? Well, it’s probably better for my health that I had at least an inkling throughout, as it was extremely important she didn’t get knocked out in the very first round. So far, she’s managed to survive a few of the “main characters,” like Agent H and Florian. And I should say that my inkling was also buttressed by her own sterling performance. She was efficient, smart, and yes, very strong. Unlike the decorum of pro athletics, she actually gets to express her emotions in the immediate aftermath, too.

In the time since Physical: 100 began airing, small outlets (though bigger than mine) have begun to generate content about Jang, including a handy overview from the curiously monikered “Reality Tit Bit.” What the hell is that about? Regardless, the article shares a link to her YouTube channel, which I somehow missed in all my manic research. She’s been uploading videos since the summer of 2021, including wrestling matches. Nothing in English, but it’s very generous, Jang Eun-sil, thank you.

The next match suggests that the show may not be focused on narrative, as was the subject of my whining in the last two posts, but it is, let’s say, “narrative aware.” There’s a clue in its selection of which matches to showcase and which to fast-forward through. We have a big character in BBULKUP, who’s covered in tattoos and asks, “Who thinks they’re the strongest?” This is a persona he’s putting on, and he directly references the politeness shown by all previous contestants, even that vicious MMA woman. He doesn’t think the gentlemanliness is “manly at all.” Finally, someone takes the bait, though it isn’t who BBULKUP may have wanted: Sang-wook, an AFC welterweight with a 6-1 record. “I should teach him,” he says.

Out of the gate, BBULKUP starts messing around. He moves slowly and doesn’t even appear to be playing. “It bothered me a lot,” Sang-wook recalls. But if it’s a mind game, it works, because Sang-wook starts taunting BBULKUP! He throws the ball away, like, “Come get it.” Well, the strategy for BBULKUP is to work up to the big moment, confident that he can catch him when the time is right. And he’s correct about that, loosening the ball with ten seconds to go. But in the end, Sang-wook prevails, making this match a narrative of hubris. “I’m disappointed as hell,” BBULKUP says, before begging the producers to make a second season.

We have another man versus woman match, between the ssireum wrestler Park Min-ji and Jang Seong-min, or “rugby’s Don Lee,” who’s a massive athlete. This is the first time a woman chooses a man, and while she wins plaudits for her courage – also for electing the no-frills Arena B – it’s a doomed proposition. They go back and forth for a while, with him slamming her and her dunking him into the pool. It isn’t an embarrassment by any means, as it simply comes down to Min-ji being unable to bring the larger body down. She loses this bout, which is unfortunate because I would’ve loved to see her up against Jang Eun-sil, in whatever kind of game. Jang, of course, was rooting for her from the sidelines. And the rugby player was also won over by Min-ji. “I became a fan of hers,” he says.

The episode is kind of downhill from here, because the next three matches are embarrassing, and in one case almost too hard to watch. First up, it’s the prison guard, Park Jung-ho, and Nam Kyung-jin, a massive heavyweight wrestler. Jang was chatting him up in the torso room, which is cute. She’s a social butterfly. “I won’t kill you,” Kyung-jin tells Jung-ho, to which the prison guard says in an interview, “He said he’d let me live, so I was grateful.” I mean, this one’s another massacre like Jang’s, though it gets off to an interesting start. Kyung-jin takes the ball and tosses it out of play, but that’s considered a foul, and the positions are reset. Once they get into the game proper, Kyung-jin is just slamming Jung-ho around left and right, making for some very cool slow-motion shots. “It was so scary,” Jung-ho recalls. This is a wrestler’s game, for sure. “Nice!” Jang calls out at Kyung-jin’s victory.

After a montage, where the beard guy defeats a woman handily, but then a woman, Kim Da-young, defeats a guy, we have easily the worst strategizing of Physical: 100 so far. The match is between Kim Kang-min, who everyone’s afraid of, and a model! The tall but relatively slender guy who looks like the second love interest in a K-drama decides to play the keep-away game on Arena A. But it isn’t the same thing, because despite his size, Kang-min is really fast. The crowd is laughing, mom’s spaghetti – it’s a disaster.

Next, we have a match that I seriously didn’t enjoy watching, nor did most of the other contestants. It’s Kim Chun-ri, a bodybuilder, versus Park Hyung-geun, a male MMA fighter. This is another disaster in the making, as the first lesson you learn about physical strength is that bodybuilders are impressive, but they’re not athletes. The MMA guy, with a smaller physique, walks out with his hands in his pockets. She gets him on the ground, but he quickly flips the tables and pins her. “He wasn’t even that heavy, but I couldn’t move,” Chun-ri says. He’s got the technique. But he’s also got a massive attitude. “I thought, ‘what’s his deal?’” Jang says. “His gaze felt threatening. It gave me chills.”

He’s effectively booed off of Chun-ri, and he does this thing where he pantomimes the “zip lip” move and points at the crowd. They engage again, and he pins her with the same technique. Chun-ri is helpless. It sucks. Min-ji lost with grace, and it felt like it could’ve been different in another circumstance. This MMA guy was just a dick. He knew he was better than this woman, and he wasn’t shy about showing it. And to be perfectly clear, he shouldn’t be shy, but my heart breaks for Chun-ri as the collateral damage to our greater fitness competition.

As if in response, we have a gentlemanly match to close out the episode, though it ends on a cliffhanger, of course. Finally, someone picks Mr. Choo Sung-hoon, the seasoned MMA fighter, and it’s a younger MMA fighter who’s also a firefighter, Shin Dong-guk. Guy just can’t get enough fighting. He has the advantage of age, but chose Sung-hoon for the challenge. “I have so much respect for you,” he tells him. “I’d never get an opportunity like this.” They get into the ring – again, very much so – and Dong-guk “pauses” the game. He says he wants to do this according to MMA rules! Impressed, Sung-hoon accepts. Uh, referees? Where the hell is the Front Man?

No, they start punching and kicking each other, without gloves and in the arena with all the obstacles. And despite that they bow and even clap hands like in Predator, it gets real pretty quick. Sung-hoon takes off his shirt and throws it into the air. Fascinating how the show itself is perfunctory in terms of structure, pacing, and subjectivity, so it falls to the contestants themselves to amp up the entertainment. This is the first episode where players are instructed on the game’s boundaries, as at first, there was an electricity generated by withheld information: two combatants implicitly knowing the rules. Don’t injure the opponent, but everything else is on the table. That’s been tested with episode three, leading to this surprising but perfectly logical climax.

For more coverage…
Physical: 100 Episode #1
Physical: 100 Episode #2
Physical: 100 Episode #3
Physical: 100 Episode #4
Physical: 100 Episode #5
Physical: 100 Episode #6
Physical: 100 Episode #7
Physical: 100 – Final Report


2 thoughts on “Jang Eun-sil Report – Physical: 100 Episode #3

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