Story: Gang-pae (So Ji-seob) is a gangster, who is always cool-headed and not easy to upset. One day, when
sitting in a karaoke bar, he gets to know that the filmstar Su-ta (Kang Ji-Hwan) is sitting in the room next to him.
Gang-pae sends some of his subordinates to get him an autograph, but Su-ta is only willing to give it to him personally.
As a result Gang-pae and Su-ta engage into an argument, which is almost about to escalate. Days later that very same
conversation is still bothering them, since some kind of connection seems to be a apparent between them.
Shortly thereafter, Su-ta has some problems concerning the shooting of his newest film, as he once again beat down one of his co-stars, whereafter no one else is willing to work with him, anymore. When he is desperately trying to find someone for the role of his antagonist, Gang-pae comes into his mind, who had mentioned that he had already had a small supporting role in a movie and back in his teenage years actually wanted to become an actor. Gang-pae agrees to play the role in the movie on the condition that they perform the fighting scenes for real. Their film shooting isn't only about to change Su-ta's life, but Gang-pae's as well, whose softer side gets more and more to the foreground, which brings him into a lot of trouble in his organization...
Review: "Rough Cut" has in interesting premise and what's evolving out of this is at all times everything
but predictable. In its core a drama about two individuals, the movie takes its time to portray the movie industry
with a wink, too, but not by implementing some improper jokes every now and then, but by looking at the industry
with a good portion of cynicism. Here's where the script writer for "Rough Cut" comes into play, which is no one
else but Kim Ki-duk. His bitterness when it comes to the Korean movie world, he has already expressed on several
occassions, among others when he found some negative words about the hype concerning "The Host", which earned him
the anger of some of the movie's fans. However, you have to give Kim credit for "Rough Cut" being exceptionally well written,
despite some small alienating moments, and for the fact that it lacks the mysticism typical for his other works.
But maybe that's the effort of director Jang Hun, a protege of Kim Ki-duk and assisstant director in Kim's "The Bow"
and "Time", who manages very well to connect profoundness with a good amount of entertainment.
Fortunately, the film doesn't take the easy route to play straight forward with the borders of reality and fiction. This is actually done in a more subtle and unobtrusive way, which avoids any clichés and therefore also leaves enough space to shed some light on the two individuals standing in the focus of the movie. Yet, talking about that it has to be pointed out that So Ji-seob soon maneuvers himself into the spotlight and leaves no doubt about the fact that he is the actual star of the film. His charisma carries the quiet, multi-layered character of Gang-pae with ease and bestows a certain mysteriousness upon him, so that he somehow always remains aloof, but nonetheless manages to win over the audience's symapthy. Kang Ji-Hwan, though, seems more like the actual antagonist in the movie, because of his impulsive and oftentimes violent behavior. At the same time, however, he also succeeds in painting a three-dimensional picture of his character, so that we also can suffer and sympathize with him.
There is no denying that the outstanding acting achievements by Kang and So are the main reasons why the movie works out so well. Moreover, director Jang Hun, completely unusual for a real Kim Ki-duk movie, doesn't miss to present his film with a good pacing, thus creating a general entertainment level. This is mainly achieved by fist fights, which at some points are pretty brutal. Especially towards the end there is quite some blood spilled and the amount of violence gets even somewhat disturbing in one certain scene. However, this shouldn't come as a surprise as this is a gangster film, naturally. Therefore, it also gets a bit more dramatic when Gang-pae makes a fateful decision in respect to one of the rivals of his boss, whom he lets live despite different orders he got. But it's not just that Gang-pae learns to become more human, because of his work in the movie or his little love intermezzo with one of the actresses, the change Gang-pae undergoes is much more complex and not that obvious at times, which makes the character drama even more believable.
Those who look out for it may find some nice references to other Korean gangster films, which thanks to the "movie within a movie"-plot fit very well into "Rough Cut". Other funny winks are the names of the two main characters, because Gang-pae means something like "thug" and Su-ta "Star". Yet, as already mentioned the two individuals don't simply become clichés of their social background. However, some scenes seem a bit too contrived or artificially crafted by the set designers, e.g. the last fight in the mud. But you can't really blame the filmmakers for that, because these movie sets are part of the "movie within a movie". A smart move by the director, because he manages to immunize himself to any form of criticism. Nonetheless, this doesn't work when it comes to the last scene, because even though Gang-pae's behavior might not be completely irrational, it still remains rather unbelievable what he does. Thus, the ending has a bitter taste to it, as it is the case with a certain raping scene, which simply eludes our comprehension as well as the following reaction and actions of the raping victim.
Technically, there is nothing to complain about. A sometimes shaky camera bestows a certain realism upon the film, at other points the mood of upper class locations is also captured very skillfully. More than anything else it's the scenes in which we get to see the work of the director and the crew, which actually isn't that often, that come with a slight documentary style. Nevertheless, "Rough Cut" doesn't just demand of you to ponder about the film industry aspect, but about others, too. Every now and then, there is also a bit of symbolism and - indispensable for a Kim Ki-duk movie - religion also finds its way into the movie in the shape of a small buddha statue, which Gang-pae gets as a present. So, there is enough to reflect about, but the movie doesn't force you to do so in a pretentious manner like it would be typical for a Kim Ki-duk movie, and that's actually a nice change.
However, "Rough Cut" remains an unusual film, which may not strike the right notes for everyone, yet deserves some laudation for what it achieves. Especially the "movie within a movie" forces the viewer in a subtle way to rethink his distance to the medium "movie" on several occasions throughout the film.