The City Of Violence
Crying Fist director Ryoo Seung-hwan out Kill Bill’s Tarantino in this enjoyable Korean action movie with some real crowd-pleasing scenes…
So Crying Fist wasn’t quite what you were expecting – a second rate Rocky knock-off with glamorous boxing sequences? No, instead you got a grown-up drama about two losers who could be redeemed by entering a boxing contest. This time you might be better satisfied, as director Ryoo Seung-hwan takes on a self-conscious step into making a crowd-pleasing action film.
When the killing of a childhood friend brings tough cop Jung Tae-soo (Jung Doo-hong) back to his hometown Onsung, he soon finds things have changed more than he thought. There’s obviously more behind Wang-Jae’s (An Kil-Kang) murder than the punks apparently responsible.
Jung teams up with another old friend, Yoo Suk-hwan (played by the director himself) to get to the bottom of the mystery. Not that they have to delve too far – jealousy and avarice has corrupted another old friend, Jun Pil-ho (Lee Beom-soo), who has allied himself with a powerful gang from Seoul in order who want to put a casino in their town.
So as the town implodes around their ears, Jung and Yoo prepare for the challenge of their lives…
This time around director Seung-hwan deliberately intended to make a fun, popcorn action movie, teaming up with the Seoul Action School to produce the film. His intention was to make a truly ‘homegrown’ action film distinct from those of Hollywood and Hong Kong.
Unsurprisingly, with that combination there are several standout sequences, like the gruelling finale where our heroes give a knowing sigh as they face one room packed with bad guys after another, outdoing even Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1′s Japanese club scene. The reference being deliberate, as is the appearance of several youth gang’s on the streets of Onsung, from breakdancers to culb wielding school girls – or at least to anyone that’s seen Walter Hill’s The Warriors. (Who knew Korean’s were such big fans of American Baseball, particularly while wearing Kiss style makeup?)
Not that those references will impair the enjoyment of those that don’t get it, but it does make some of those comparisons to Tarantino fairly made. Both directors have no trouble being rather upfront about their influences. (Of course, you might have been under the impression the tile of Korean Tarantino had already been taken by Park Chan-wook, a far more imaginative director…?)
While it lacks the surprising depth to be found in Crying Fist (well I had seen that trailer for it!) director Seung-hwan more than makes up for it fine, if somewhat unchallenging, performances from his stars. Martial artist and choreographer Jung Doo-hong is a believable lead, vastly superior to certain action stars like Tony Jaa, and Seung-hwan doesn’t do a bad job himself – though surely this must be the ultimate in wish-fulfilment? Casting himself as a kick-ass action hero?
With a UK theatrical release just a week before Johnnie To’s Exiled, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two. Both film centre on old school friends pulled apart by the choices they’ve made in adult life, with Ryoo Seung-hwan taking a cynical, less romantic stance, with money, not honour, at the core of their betrayal.
Both films make reference to the triad and gangster films that have come before, yet while both have iconic, standout scenes, it’s Exiled that has more original scenes – those American sources of inspiration Seung-hwan so affectionately pays homage make City Of Violence strangely less Asian in flavour. And as for the performances of the cast – well, they wouldn’t stand a chance against some of Hong Kong’s finest character actors!
But I guess that’s not the point. City Of Violence is a massively enjoyable film that could well strike a bigger cord with Western audiences, so enjoy!
The City Of Violence is released on DVD by Premier Asia in the UK on 1 October.
Distributor: Premier Asia (UK)
This new double-disc presentation from Premier Asia hosts enough extra features to warrant a second disc for once, if still not quite the extent available on the original Korean and US releases. Deleted scenes and an alternative ending are presented with director's commentary, for instance, but not the film itself - surely missing a trick?