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Original Title:
Noon-e-neun noon I-e-neun i

South Korea 2008

Crime, Action

Ahn Kwon-tae
Kwak Kyung-taek

Han Suk-kyu
Cha Seung-won
Lee Byeong-jun
Jeong In-gi
Kim Ji-seok
Kim Yoon-tae
Lim Seong-Gyoo
Lee Jae-goo
Son Byeong-wook
Song Young-chang

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Eye for an Eye

Story: Detective Baek Sung-chan (Han Suk-kyu) is tired of chasing after criminals who are then simply released again. When he is just about to hand in his letter of resignation a new case arrouses his attention. A money transporter is robbed and the villians got their hands on the money by taking on the identity of some detectives, one of them being that of Baek. Furthermore, the money transporter carried 600 kg of pure gold that belong to the shady businessman Kim (Song Young-chang). Baek has been after Kim for some time already, but never could prove that he has any connections to illegal activities. Now, the gangster Ahn Hyon-min (Cha Seung-won) seemingly wants to take revenge on Kim. Baek doesn't know the actual motive, but his investigation reveals that Ahn was only partly after the gold. It seems that he wants to see Kim behind bars and so he uses Baek to play a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. But Baek isn't willing to play after Ahn's rules and hopes to put Ahn and Kim into prison at the same time. However, for this he first needs to look through Ahn's game as Ahn always seems to be one step ahead of the police.

Review: At first glance "Eye for an Eye" seems to be a solid action thriller, which has some problems concerning its confusingly told story, though. One reason for that might be that director Ahn Kwon-tae got some problems with the production company so that his mentor Kwak Kyung-Taek shot the rest of the movie. Kwak is one of the most important directors of Korea, a fact that actually only derives from his film "Friend". After that there were mainly disappointing works with the exception of "A Love". Therefore, I have to stress in this review that Kwak is in my opinion a director that is overrated a lot which gets only highlighted by "Eye for an Eye" once again. Kwak tries to pep up his action thriller through many technical refinements like splitscreens or picture montage, but what can all of this achieve if the script is unoriginal and half baked? Actually, the filmmakers didn't really seem to know what they wanted to deliver here. At first a cop thriller with a lot of obvious borrowing from various gangster movies this film soon becomes a revenge thriller. What's missing is a red thread.

The most frustrating thing about the movie are the characters, though. Here, some more elaboration would had been desirable. Han Suk-kyu ("Shiri", "Christmas in August") is trying very hard to bring out his character's peculiarities and wouldn't he be such a good actor he easily could have overstepped the border to overacting. But what's the use of his efforts to elaborate the almost sick shades of his character if he remains too cold as a human being? At one point he tortures a criminal in such a repulsive way (and I don't mean any ruthlessness shown by him, but the lunatic look in his eyes) that the viewer's sympathies soon turn into a different direction. Unfortunately, the team around Baek remains colorless as well, so that only Ahn and his men can stand as the movie's sympathetic figures. Sadly, we don't get to know much about them either. At least Cha Seung-won ("My Teacher, Mr. Kim", "Blood Rain") manages to depict a charismatic villian who actually isn't one. Soon, we root for him and are captivated by his well-elaborated plans in which not a single individual is physically hurt which also makes him earn the audience's respect.

However, the plans Ahn schemes with a sense for even the smallest of details are everything but perfectly thought through. To be exactly they are oftentimes incredibly far-fetched and additionally all of the events are presented in a unnecessarily confusing manner. Maybe this is supposed to create tension, in the end it simply means frustration and eventually disinterest for the viewer. Towards the end there are thrown in some twists for good measure, but this just makes the whole picture seem the more artificial and makes us angry about the undeveloped characters and their strange transitions they undergo. Especially the ending looks as if the filmmakers suddenly had to wrap up all loose ends. The worst thing is, however, that Ahn/Kwak shot their movie as if they wanted to make it some sort of question time. Who does what and why? Fast and elaborate cuts as well as many splitscreens are supposed to make the action seem tense, but actually all of these technical tricks make us even more aware of how little we care about the events on screen. The technical implementations simply are used in a too forced fashion.

At least there are a few nice action scenes in shape of chasing scenes. Still, they aren't that thrilling nevertheless as we simply miss any emotional bond to the characters. Han Suk-kyu clearly has fun acting in a movie again after his 2-years-break, but his character nonetheless lacks any real individual traits that could make him interesting or appealing to the viewer. Sometimes you even get the impression that he is parodying his own role. And that's not that unlikely as the film is also delivering some subtle black humor every now and then. The only problem with it being that it doesn't fit to the rest.
Also on a negative side note I have to mention that the ending almost typical for Kwak Kyung-taek resembles an epilogue. Moreover, the script really wouldn't have suffered from a bit more imaginativeness, especially since it is trying to implement some smart turns it becomes even the more apparent that this is actually nothing more than a mediocre action thriller.

Korean action thrillers somehow can't hit the right notes. "Eye for an Eye" is in the ranks of such movies likes "Bloody Tie" or "Les Formidables" and just like those works fails to really captivate the audience. The problem is the screenplay of course, but more than anything else the characters, who simply can't make you root for them. "Eye for an Eye" is too cold and unelaborated concerning its protagonists. The big-budget look, a bit of nice stylistic decorating and two actors who try to give it their best can't hide the fact that this is still an unoriginal action thriller which also likes to relentlessly borrow ideas from certain Hollywood flicks. Maybe Korea should stick to its mafia movies, because they can at least score with their dark atmosphere even if Hong Kong is still number one when it comes to such films. Anyway, "Eye for an Eye" is a movie which may offer shallow entertainmant, yet on the other hand is simply uninteresting.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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