Monday, July 31, 2006

A City of Violence

'Violence' is freak-out for hardcore action film geeks

With no stuntmen and no wire action, Korean real action heroes in "The City of Violence" are no high-flying over-the-top heroes. Instead, the hardcore action film starring Jung Doo-hong and Ryu Seung-wan (who is also the director of the movie) as two old hometown buddies on a revenge spree, is loyal to the reality of street fighting, not overly refined but super real. There are no spurting severed limbs in the
film as in Quentin Tarantino's two "Kill Bill" movies (which are good for popcorn eaters), but the skillful and witty filmmaking of Ryu and
no-holds-barred fighting action of Jung makes the film an action masterpiece.

Tae-soo (Jung), a police detective in Seoul, visits his hometown for the first time in 10 years, upon hearing the news that his old friend Wang-jae was murdered by a gang of teenagers. Guided by his detective's instinct, he attempts to uncover the hidden connections in the death of his former gang boss friend. He reluctantly teams up with hot-tempered Seok-hwan (Ryu). The rest of the film is an action-packed account of how another old buddy Pil-ho (Lee Beom-soo) has turned into a cold-blooded villain, and how the two fight against the criminal
kingpin of the city, for the sole purpose of avenging the death of Wang-jae. If "Kill Bill" pays tribute to Tarantino's beloved Chinese and Japanese martial arts films, "Violence," simply put, is a homage to the entire history of Korean action films, which have never been in the mainstream. In this sense, the film pays homage to all the Korean actors devoting themselves to the genre, including Jung who is far better known as an action director than an actor. With the show-stopping action film, their long struggles with pain and hunger seem to be paid off a little. In an interview, Jung recollected the day when he had to jump off a running vehicle, not onto a soft mattress but piled cardboard boxes. The climatic carnage at a Japanese restaurant, in which the two eradicate Pil-ho's subordinates one after another, is the distillation of the universe of Korean action films. The scene might seem to be under strong "Kill Bill" influences, probably reminding many of the mayhem of O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) and her school
girl bodyguard Go Go Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama). Yet considering that such a scene from "Kill Bill" is also a patchwork of a wide variety of Asian martial art films, a debate on its similarity is almost pointless. Ryu Seung-wan, however, seems to share much with Tarantino, especially his brilliant dark humor. For one thing, all the key characters of the film speak in thick a Chungcheong Province
accent, slow and unenthusiastic, which probably is the last kind of accent one would expect to hear from a merciless gang member. The screenplay of the film also shows his best, not far behind that of Tarantino's. His acting is fine but "Violence" seems to be his last film as an actor, as the older brother of film star Ryu Seung-bum said in a recent interview that he would concentrate on filmmaking. For the film, the biggest plus from its cast will be Lee Beom-soo, star of "Superstar Mr. Gam" (2004) and "Oh! Brothers" (2003), whose roles had always been of a warm-hearted, super nice guy until this one. In the film, though, his Pil-ho is so perfectly villainous that it makes him look almost like a different actor. "Violence" is a freak-out for hardcore action film geeks, which combines exhilarating filmmaking skills and real action. The film screens in theaters from today. By Lee Yong-sung

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