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Original Title:
Yongseoneun Eobsda

South Korea 2009


Kim Hyeong-Joon

Sol Kyung-gu
Ryu Seung-beom
Han Hye-jin
Seong Ji-roo
Nam Kyeong-eup
Park Sang-wuk

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No Mercy

Story: A particularly horrible murder case keeps the police busy. They find a dismembered body, but its pieces are all found lying together. The only part missing is the right arm. What message does the killer want to convey? The respected pathologist Kang Min-ho (Sol Kyung-gu) is called in on the case and it doesn't take him long to find his first clues. Moreover, he takes the rookie Min Seo-yeong (Han Hye-jin) in on the case, much to the disappointment of the rest of the investigators as they soon feel threatened by the keen mind of the new inconspicuous investigator. In fact, Min Seo-yeong quickly manages to connect the environmental activist Lee Seong-ho (Ryoo Seung-beom) to the victims. It seems the murder is related to environmental policy. Lee confesses the crime and even tells the police where the murder weapon can be found. At the same time, though, he secretly tells Kang that he kidnapped his daughter and that he won't see her again unless he can get him out of custody. The overwhelming evidence makes this extremely difficult and now Kang is forced to forge evidence while Min always has an eager eye on the case's development...

Review: A good thriller always stands or falls with its story and its atmosphere. For some reason Korea always had some trouble with this, but now there are actually some movies in this genre that don't need to hide from Hollywood. And "No Mercy" is one of those movies. At the same time, though, the movie obviously has some dreadful problems, but the fine script and the fairly exciting lethal game between killer and investigator is quite riveting. It's not the chase after the killer that is in the foreground but rather his motive. Most of the time pathologist Kang is busy tampering with the evidence and watching out for the investigators from his own ranks. Nevertheless, the viewer shares the thrill with him, on the one hand because we want to find the reason for Kang's manipulation, after all Lee unnecessarily makes the pathologist's work more difficult by confessing the crime to the police, and on the other hand because in the end we hope to see Kang taking his well-earned revenge.

What is striking is the movie's tone as it doesn't settle for any compromises. This can already be seen at the autopsy. While not really being a brutal movie as such, in this scene "No Mercy" shows the performance of a Y-shaped incision on a corpse as well as the removal of various organs and how they are cut up into small pieces in all detail and with an incredible closeness to reality. While we are happy that other movies decide to make a cut at the right moment (no pun intended…), this movie keeps the camera rolling without any mercy. But also little sex scenes, which are meant to supply evidence in a quite interesting way, are portrayed astonishingly revealing. Yet, all these scenes aren't meant to artificially increase the movie's shock factor but actually help to emphasize the movie's relentlessly direct style. Needless to say that this is also reflected in the prevailing mood which is astoundingly dark and hopeless. "No Mercy" shows more courage than most other movies of its genre and this is reason enough to reward it with some words of praise.

The movie's story of course is rather tricky, but unlike other thrillers this doesn't cause any problems in following it. In fact, there are some twists that are quite predictable for the attentive viewer. The only question is whether it was planned this way by the script writer, or not. Besides there are a few more problems concerning the story. The characters often behave absurdly stupid. Kang leaves a scalpel at a crime scene and on top of that, it is the same scalpel he previously committed a crime with so that Min can easily connect it to him. Still he is not the only one behaving as if he'd never heard of investigation methods. It's just that after all, he's a professor and the one teaching other policemen! You'd think that would speak for some sort of expertise. Instead most of the time he goes round in circles with his investigations because he just doesn't ask the right question. In addition to that, the last twist is based on something that a pathologist who deals with dismembered bodies couldn't possibly miss!

But ignoring the fact that Kang often pointlessly chases after wrong leads and for that matter mostly only makes progress with his investigation by pure chance, which by the way is not the way a good thriller should go about anyway, the story still manages to stay exciting as something always seems to be happening. Strangely enough, despite very good actors - after all we have Sol Kyung-gu ("Oasis", "Peppermint Candy") in the lead - "No Mercy" doesn't succeed in allowing the audience to bond with the characters on an emotional level. Ryu Seung-beom ("Arahan", "The Beast and the Beauty"), almost unrecognizable as a killer, often upstages everybody else but unfortunately in the end we don't really learn a lot about his personality. Han Hye-jin, until now only known for her roles in TV series, seems to have a hard time in this movie. Even though she does bring some energy and freshness to the movie she still remains rather colorless. On top of that, there is an incredibly annoying moron of a policeman popping up occasionally, thinking that as a veteran he is immediately able to figure out any case.

Director and script writer Kim Hyeong-Joon doesn't do any technical experiments, everything looks appealing and the soundtrack turns out to be fitting as well. The story is always in progress and apart from some chasing scenes the suspense always derives from the story's development. It would be too much to say that the story was intelligent, but for the main part it does everything right and delivers interesting twists at the right moment. A much shorter version of the movie wouldn't have done any harm, though, and as already said before the characters could have used a bit more color, especially because then they would have been able to emotionally carry the finale more satisfyingly. But nonetheless the ending is still very convincing.
"No Mercy" is not for the faint-hearted and is more daring than its competitors. An absorbing thriller which in future may as well contribute to raising the bar in its genre.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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