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South Korea 2007

Thriller, Drama, Action

Lee Sang-ki

Son Ye-jin
Kim Myeong-min
Kim Hae-sook
Kim Byeong-ok
Kim Jun-bae
Lee Eol
Jo Sang-geon
Ji Dae-han
Kim Jeong-tae
Lee Hye-suk
Koo Seong-Hwan
Park Kil-soo
Son Byung-ho

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Open City

Story: Baek Jang-mi (Son Ye-jin) is the head of a gang of pickpockets, which is a thorn in the police's side for quite some time already. However, Jang-mi is still in need of some good people, which is why she visits Man-ok (Kim Hae-sook), a veteran of her profession, who just has been released from prison. Yet, Man-ok doesn't want to have to do anything with this kind of business anymore, since she wants to seek redemption and ask her children, which she abandoned years ago, for forgiveness. Man-ok's son Jo Dae-yeong (Kim Myeong-min) works in the police force and had to bring his mother in once already, which is why he refuses to take part in a big raid against the city's pickpockets at first. But after reconsideration, his investigation eventually leads him to Jang-min, who pretends to be wanting to help him. The girl tries to impress him with her seducing techniques, but Dae-yeong is a careful fellow, especially since he knows very well of her previous convictions. Moreover, Jang-mi starts to step on the toes of rivaling organisations by entering their turfs, and so she has to be extra careful which cards to play...

Review: "Open City" didn't receive good reviews everywhere, and still, it even found its way over here to Germany. Why? The international flair of the film is surely one good reason for that, but the pickpocket theme is also a good guess, because it's simply universal movie stuff. Pickpockets you can find anywhere, you know. In his debut director Lee Sang-ki wraps the topic up with a nice cat-and-mouse chase, spices things up with some erotic and adds a good portion of family drama. At least latter can stand as typical for Korean movie culture. But all of that is just a bit too much, especially when you take into account that "Open City" also feautures some brutal knife-stabbing, which also gives it some film-noir feeling. Does this unusual mix pay off in the end? Sadly no, because even if the individual parts can be appealing, the overall work can't stand on steady feet. Nonetheless, Lee Sang-ki's film is an entertaining flick, which most likely will be best received by westerners.

Star of the movie is Son Ye-jin ("A Moment to Remember"), who is supposed to play a femme fatale with a conscience. But here we already stumble across the first problem. Jang-mi is so cold-hearted and manipulative that it becomes almost impossible to relate to her. Furthermore, her advances towards Dae-yeong are not to be understood as a serious love intermezzo, but simply stand as her efforts to gain another ace up her sleeves within the police force. Also, well aware of her actions, she brings about the dramatical catastrophe at the end, and yet afterwards she claims that she couldn't have foreseen where this might lead to eventually. The fact of the matter is, that when the inevitable confrontation between Jang-mi and Dae-yeong takes place, the viewer is actually imploring Dae-yeong to pull the trigger of his gun and not to let himself get wrapped up around Jang-mi's finger. So, Jang-mi is supposed to have a conscience, at least in the mind's of the script writers, but except of a very inappropriate scene, where she orders her subordinates to return the stolen money to the mother they have it from, so that she can pay for his little son's operation, we don't get to see much of it.

Now we get to a point of criticism that might sound a bit strange coming from me. Son Ye-jin just looks too hot in the movie. Sure, this is fully the intention of the filmmakers in order to show how well aware Jang-mi is of her looks and that she knows how to make use of it in order to get what she wants, but from a certain point onwards it just seems superfluous and too artificial. Why does Jang-mi have to appear in a new dress every other scene, which also more than clearly draws her prominent curves? Yes, the viewer already did get it the first time: Son's proportions are perfect, so why play around with it more than necessary? Sometime throughout, when even the last man in front of the screen will have broken out in a sweat, it just seems unrealistic that Dae-yeong can still resist her seducement.
Son Ye-jin really cuts a fine figure (pun intended), but her character falls a bit to the wayside. Son can act, and we have seen so more apparently in her more innocent roles, but here we only get a glance at it.

Kim Myeong-min ("Return") on the other hand remains a bit too cold, even if his family story kicking in later on naturally makes us care for him more. But this is also another matter where director Lee makes a big mistake, because he lets coincidences and relationships meet in a big crash, which all add to an incredible whole, especially during the finale. Moreover, the movie loses focus from the second half onwards, and what first started as a thriller with film noir aspects, deliquesces into a TV Drama, which still owes us some tears at the end, because we can't weave an emotional bond to the characters to really care.
At first, the film also makes us wonder what to expect in another respect, as its hectic camera movements and a for Korean movies typical group brawl, makes us believe to see another one of those mafia movies that keep popping up. But surprisingly, there are some knife fights feautured, which can entertain with nice choreography and which will even please action fans.

Towards the end the relationship between Dae-yeong and Man-ok more and more steps into the movie's center and the whole police chase as well as Jang-min's problems with her rivals vanish into the background. That's especially strange as "Open City", because of its depiction of pickpocketing acts and the several techniques utilized, actually promised a different movie. And a better one at that. The direction everything suddenly heads into at the end feels very artificial and doesn't fit into the rest of the film. It's like in those Korean rom-coms, which all have to make a turn for the melodramatic during their final spurt, only that this time the nice film noir feel gets destroyed. Nonetheless, there is a certain tension found throughout and there are always new developments, so that you can't blame the movie - also because of the appealing visuals - to bore the viewer. At the end you just don't get the film you might have expected at first. Still, for an entertaining evening on the couch this one qualifies.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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