Dir: Ryoo Seung-wan. S Kor. 2006. 93mins.
Action film-maker Ryoo Seong-wan takes a comparative step backwards from thepsychological complexity of last year's CryingFist with The City OfViolence, his latest outing, which pegs a series of appetisingly choreographedfight sequences onto a threadbare script.
Co-produced by Korea's mainmartial arts school, the film seems more interested in kung-fu than character -though it's worth sticking around just for the long last-man-standing battle atthe end, which, like the Liu-Thurman restaurant showdown in Kill Bill, or the hammer fight in Old Boy, could easily be extracted for aBest Film Fights compilation.
At home in South Korea ithas notched up around 1.2m admissions so far, as compared to the moreintrospectively brutal Crying Fist,which came in at around 1.7m. Abroad, its loose story and lo-fi production values may prevent it from achieving kung-fucrossover a la Stephen Chow; DVD looks likely to be the format in which mostWestern fans of Korean and/or martial arts cinema will end up seeing this one.
Tae-soo(Jung Doo-hong), a tough but honest detective fromSeoul, is called back to his hometown, Onsung, by thenews that his childhood friend Wang-jae has beenkilled, apparently by a couple of teenage tearaways. At the funeral he meets upwith two other friends from the same former band of schoolmates (whose halcyondays are evoked in a series of flashbacks): Suk-hwan- a violent but good-hearted hothead, played by the director - and the unctuousPil-ho (Lee Beom-soo), oncethe brunt of the gang's practical jokes, now getting his own back as asmall-time mafia boss.
Tae-soodecides - though we're not quite sure why - that there's more to his friend'smurder than meets the eye, and opts to stay on in Onsungto get to the bottom of the mystery. The youth of this once-tranquil city areout of control, and they explode in a choreographed shopping mall fightsequence that involves break-dancers, then BMX bikers, then in-line skaters,then a vicious gang of hockey-wielding schoolgirls, then a whole baseball teamin full kit, form battle ranks against Tae-soo and Suk-hwan.
The final sequence, abravura piece of kung-fu choreography set in a traditional, pagoda-roofedKorean inn, must have absorbed a good slice of the film's remarkably modest$2.4m budget.
The film's main problem isthat the mannered, tongue-in-cheek humour of these fightsequences, which are filmed in dynamic close-up and edited for speed, clashesmore often than not with the more sombre tone of the investigation scenes thatsurround them. The script is structurally weak too, with flashbacks (such as arunning theme involving a bottle of liquor with a pickled snake inside) ofteninserted in an apparently random order.
Of the actors, it's Lee Beom-soo, the villain of the piece, who gives his charactermost depth, suggesting the resentment which fuels his thuggish smalltown tyranny and becoming almost likeable in his uncomplicated,sweaty amorality.
The catchy soundtrack mixesKorean rap and hip-hop in the youth-fight scenes with an updated spaghettiwestern theme that surges to a climax in the final fight to the death.
Filmmaker R&K Ltd
Seoul Action School
International sales/SouthKorean distribution
The Weinstein Company