Lee Jeong-beom, director of The Man from Nowhere, returns with more violent and moody action…
Despite its formulaic premise, writer director Lee Jeong-beom’s noir-actioner The Man from Nowhere ranked as one of the most commercially and critically popular Korean genre films of the last while, winning a slew of awards and emerging as the country’s biggest box office hit of 2010. Several years later, Lee returns with more of the same in No Tears for the Dead, another moody action thriller which this time follows a deadly hitman trying to get out of the game and facing a complicated final mission.
The assassin in question is Gon, played by top Korean star Jang Dong-gun (My Way), who spends his time in the US carrying out hits for a shady crime organisation. Unfortunately, his most recent job goes badly wrong when he accidentally kills the daughter of his target, sending him into a spiral of guilt and depression. Deciding to quit, he’s forced into taking on one last assignment, which just happens to involve the dead girl’s mother Mo Gyeong (Kim Min-hee, Very Ordinary Couple), who herself has been living on the edge since the incident. Realising he’s caught up in a wide-reaching conspiracy, Gon finds himself protecting Mo Gyeong against his former colleagues, seeing in her a chance for redemption.
Like The Man from Nowhere, which saw Won Bin as a violent man with a mysterious past protecting a young girl from organ trafficking gangsters, there’s really very little new or original about the story, characters or themes of No Tears for the Dead. As both writer and director Lee Jeong-beom is clearly a man happy dealing in archetypes, and No Tears certainly doesn’t stray far from the well-trodden path, with a predicable plot and character development arcs that are signposted from early on – Gon himself is every inch the stereotypical kind of hitman popular in the genre cinema of the last few decades, brooding, violent and well-groomed, and his ‘one last job’ predicament and decision to protect Mo Gyeong is a scenario seen countless times before. With Mo herself being very much a damaged damsel in distress, and the villains of the piece being brash foreigners or overseas-Koreans, all given to bouts of odd dialogue, the film is undeniably open to accusations of a lack of ambition, running the risk of underwhelming through over-familiarity or lazy writing.
In the hands of a lesser director this might well have been the case, though thankfully Lee is very much in his element, and again proves himself an expert genre helmer, taking the various clichés and both combining them to great effect. A slick, fast-moving and expertly crafted thriller, what the film lacks in originality it makes up for in panache, Lee showing an impressive talent for delivering the goods in a highly satisfying and exciting manner. The film is action packed and hyper-violent throughout, with some extremely brutal fight, knife and gun battles, all of which are superbly choreographed and fluid without being needlessly stylised, and there’s a real visceral impact to its carnage. Though its plot might not be particularly engaging, the tough and edgy film grips through its constant sense of threat, and while there’s never much doubt as to who’s going to live and die, it benefits from the kind of hard and vicious streak missing from so many of its peers. The cast also help, all turning in strong performances, and Jang Dong-gun doesn’t disappoint in the lead role, with a charismatic and appropriately grizzled turn that at least makes Gon likeable and worth rooting for. To her credit Kim Min-hee is fine in an under-written role that doesn’t give her much to do apart from mope, and though daft, the villains are all good value for money and make for some not-unwelcome unintentional humour with their over the top behaviour.
No Tears for the Dead is very entertaining as a result, and though not quite up to the standard of The Man from Nowhere is a worthy follow-up for Lee Jeong-beom. It’d be nice to see such an obviously capable filmmaker as Lee trying his hand at something more imaginative of course, though there’s no denying his position as one of Korea’s best current genre directors.