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No Mercy - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2019

Thriller, Drama

Lim Kyeong-taek

Lee Si-young
Park Se-wan
Lee Joon-hyuk
Choi Jin-ho
Lee Hyung-chul
Kim Won-hae

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No Mercy

No Mercy - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Park In-ae (Lee Si-young) was just released from prison and is finally reunited with her sister Eun-hye (Park Se-wan), who she has taken care of since their parents' death. In-ae won numerous medals in the martial art of the Korean Special Forces and worked as a bodyguard. Because of her imprisonment she does not get her old job back, though. At first, she cares selflessly for her sister, who is somewhat mentally disabled, but still goes to a regular school. That's why Eun-hye gets bullied by some students. Eventually, the students even take her to a karaoke bar and a group of youngsters push her towards elderly men. As soon as the clients are in the bedroom with the girl, the teenagers burst into the hotel room and press them for money, otherwise they will tell the police what the men wanted to do with the underaged girl. All this happens without Eun-hye's consent and only works until the youngsters come across a gangster. Now, he blackmails them and sells Eun-hye to a pimp. However, that's also how the politician Park Yeong-choon (Choi Jin-ho) learns about the girl, who wants to have her for himself, as there is also something from the past he has to settle. In the meantime, In-ae is desperately searching for her sister. The police are no help to her, so she follows the clues herself. This way she comes closer and closer to finding her sister, but gets confronted with her own past once more...

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Review: At first, "No Mercy" seems to be an exploitation film. The introduction leaves no doubt about it, because even if we don't actually get to see the violence, a giant sledgehammer being swung into the camera doesn't leave any room for interpretation. But what exactly happened that our heroine became so violent? Well, it is not exactly a pleasure to follow the script because narratively the movie is a mess. Also unpleasant are the topics the movie deals with and the tone of the movie. It's about enforced prostitution, pedophiles, corrupt politicians, a poor legal system and much more. Furthermore, there is the heroine's sister, who is being exploited sexually, and who is also mentally disabled. That's some strong stuff, but it also could be the foundation for a socio-critical movie, which is more than just the run-of-the-mill revenge flick. Unfortunately, the director deals with the topics so awkwardly that you just find yourself being aghast.

No Mercy - Film Screenshot 5

"No Mercy" has a lot of problems. The story is presented to us in form of little puzzle pieces, which serve as clues that In-ae has to follow deeper and deeper into the center, until she has all the pieces together. All this is put on screen in a hardly exciting way and follows the usual pattern, so that we are introduced to an individual, who In-ae takes revenge on, after she squeezed the information about the next person's whereabouts out of them. Later, there are also flashbacks within flashblacks, and of course we also get to see for which crime our protagonist was imprisoned before she was released at the beginning of the movie. And there is also no doubt that the reason for that is somehow connected to the events in the present. And if you look at how clumsily all the little pieces are put together - and sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all - you don't expect all that much from the movie anymore.

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So is the action at least well-done? Nope, not at all. Director Lim Kyeong-taek obviously wants to keep the pacing up. Which, to him, means hectic cuts and dynamic camera work. As is often the case, though, this means that you actually don't get to see all that much of the action! Surely, the plot might have already reminded you of "Taken", and when it comes to the action sequences "No Mercy" also uses the movie as reference material. The more cuts per scene, the better. This leads to the fact that we don't buy that Lee Si-young ("Killer Toon") was a martial artist at the Korean Special Forces. Which is especially surprising as actress Lee actually was an amateur boxing champion in real life numerous times! To manage to let the heroine look weak, nonetheless, can almost be called a piece of art. Director Lim Kyeong-taek does not cover himself in glory and there is not one action scene that sticks with you.

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However, it really gets bad when the actual plot gets moving. Park Se-wan plays the girl who doesn't know what happens to her when she is being sold from one pimp to the next. The movie is still pretty interesting when a group of youngsters use her. Interesting because it names and shames Korean society and schoolgirls selling themselves as well as certain scams. Or the moral deterioration of teenagers, not least because of the schoolgirls, who bring Eun-hye in this horrible situation, in the first place. But that's it. The rest is put on screen pretty ridiculously. As if the director had planned to deal with a serious topic, but didn't really know how to do so without getting his fingers burned. Maybe the story would have been a little bit more easy to shoot if it had been done as a drama, but "No Mercy" wants to be a revenge thriller.

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Of course, it might be fascinating and freeing to see a woman in the lead taking revenge on pimps and a pervert politician who is more than anything else reminding us of a gangster boss. But first of all, we have seen stereotypical characters like the aforementioned far too many times, second of all, the director didn't make much of the female role. Is she really a power woman? The protagonist does not act well-thought-out and this is what gets her into trouble in hand-to-hand combat, as the men she has to fight, of course, outmuscle her. She would have needed to make up for the disadvantage with neatly choreographed technique. But the director did not have an eye for that and the other actors hit her as if they wanted to avoid hurting a woman. The fast cuts are not only annoying during the physical struggles, but also in some chase scenes during which we also get the impression that the director fell in love with the Ford Mustang the heroine drives and just wanted to shoot an advert for it. All this is pretty weird and along with the unsatisfying adaptation of a potentially unusual and appealing story, everything turns out rather disappointing.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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