Dir/scr: Ha Yu. S Kor. 2006. 141mins.

Updating the theory that war is politics pursued byother means, A Dirty Carnival arguesthat the criminal underworld is simply corporate business employing differenttools. Tracing the rise and fall of an ambitious but insufficiently ruthless Seoulthug, Ha Yu's new feature is reminiscent of Friend,Korea's best crime movie of recent years, in its treatment of the friendshipbetween an upcoming criminal and his pal trying to make their name through legitimatemeans.

That these two worlds do notcollide but converge is one of A DirtyCarnival's more jaundiced conclusions and this, combined with a deluge ofviolent action, should give Western audiences plenty to chew on. A respectablehit at home during the summer, it could become a specialityhit on the international market, although it would benefit from some trimmingof its excessive running time.

In his tailored suit andtie, twentysomething Byeong-doo(Jo In-seong) looks like anyyoung executive hungry for promotion and eager to improve the lot of hisslum-dwelling mother and wild younger brother.

But Byeong-doois a petty officer in a Seoulgang, collecting debts for his immediate superior Sang-chul(Yoon Jae-moon). At the top of the corporate-style organisation is the smooth President Hwang (Jeon Ho-jin), who projects theperfectly groomed image of a company CEO, nevergetting his own hands dirty when there are so many others willing to do so forhim.

From the first brawl it isclear that Byeong-doo is tough and determined enoughto do his job, although his polite request for a raise indicates that he hasnot yet matured enough to take the next step up. But when the Presidentrequires someone to rid him of a certain lawyer, Byeong-doojumps at the opportunity, terminates the target and wins promotion.

Gradually he rises in thePresident's estimation and is cut into a highly lucrative deal - if he emptieshis childhood neighbourhood of its inhabitants forthe benefit of property developers.

At the same time Byeong-doo meets Min-ho (Nam Gung-min), a film-maker and oldfriend from school, who asks for his input into his next gangster film. Byeong-doo obliges, in a moment of weakness confessingdetails of his past crimes in the expectation that they will be kept secret.

But at the premiere Byeong-doo realises his secrets havebeen splashed all over the screen, putting himself andthe underworld operation in imminent danger.

While A Dirty Carnival has the usual mayhem and brutality of Koreancinema, Ha Yu's picture distinguishes itself in how it defines its characters. Byeong-doo may be all cold determination and despondentfury but he also has a conscience and cannot help feeling bad about his deeds, afailing which leads to his downfall. Min-ho, on the other hand, is an artist whobelieves his film is beyond any considerations of safety, even that of closefriends, and that anything that can help him complete his work is fair game.

Above them both are theexecutives of two worlds, the criminal and the movie, whose moral standardsseem largely interchangeable.

The feature's onlyshortcoming is the script, which is structured like a classical tragedy in howit sees the fate of its lead character as being pre-ordained but which has aneasily predictable conclusion.

Ha Yu draws several slickperformances from his cast, including some finely nuanced work from by Jo In-seong, whose unchained acts of violence are tainted by doubtshe does not dare divulge.

Photography majors heavilyin metallic blue hues that verge on saturation, all rounded off with effectiveediting.

Production companies/backers
Sidus FNH Corporation
Film Foeta

International sales
CJ Entertainment

Tcha Sungjai
Kim Mihee

Choi Hyun-gi

Park Gok-ji

Production design
Kim Gi-cheoi

Cho Young-wuk

Main cast
Jo In-seong
Jeon Ho-jin
Jin Ku
Lee Bo-young
Kim Byeong-chun
Kim Yun-hee
Lee Jeong-hyeok