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South Korea 2006

Action, Martial Arts, Crime

Ryoo Seung-wan

Jong Doo-hong
Ryoo Seung-wan
Lee Beom-su
Ahn Kil-Kang
Jeong Seok-yong
Ahn Jae-mo
Kim Byeong-ok
Kim Su-hyeon
Kim Seo-hyeong
On Ju-wan
Lee Ju-shil
Jo Deok-hyeon

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The City of Violence

Story: Tae-su (Jong Doo-hong) is a cop in Seoul and is notified that Wang-jae (Ahn Kil-Kang), one of his former best friends, has been killed. Therefore, he returns to his home town and starts to investigate things on his own. He finds out that Wang-jae gave up his activities and bonds to the gangster organisation he was working for and gave his position to his friend Pil-ho (Lee Beom-su). Pil-ho, who is also one of Tae-su's former friends, thinks that there is nothing big behind the murder. Only Tae-su doesn't believe that Wang-jae simply died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so he investigates the case. Eventually, he also gets the help of quick-tempered Seok-hwan (Ryoo Seung-wan), who was also part of the clique around Wang-jae, Tae-su and Pil-ho, when they were young.
Again and again, somebody seems to put obstacles in Tae-su's and Seok-hwan's way, yet as things get more clear it becomes apparent that Pil-ho didn't tell them the whole truth about what happened the night Wang-jae was killed. Pil-ho's influence in the gangster organisation grows and suddenly there is a new rumor spreading that Wang-jae's murder might be connected to a new casino.
Tae-su and Seok-hwan get to the bottom of things until their investigation finds its end in a bloody showdown...

Review: "The City of Violence" is an action-packed, stylish flick with lots of martial arts and a great finale. However, if you look at who's behind the movie, namely no one else than Ryoo Seung-wan, who did by far a greater job with his "Arahan", then you might get a little bit disappointed by this film. If you watch this movie without any high expectation, however, then you'll surely be well entertained. Nevertheless, if you are looking for some profoundness or at least a little bit of reasoning, then you'll find a script full of plot holes and one-dimensional characters to pick at.

As just said the movie's biggest sore point is the script. Strange logic gaps and incomprehensible actions of the characters are the order of the day. What reasons does Tae-su have to believe that there might be a big plot behind Wang-jae's murder and that it isn't in fact the work of some violent youth gang? But the biggest question of them all: How is it possible that Tae-su get's ambushed by an impressive amount of teenage rampagers in the lively streets of Korea? And the question even more tormenting: For what reasons? The more you think about it the less it makes sense. Furthermore, why isn't Tae-su killed by the main villian when he has the opportunity to do so? He really could have saved himself some serious trouble. Sure, that's one of those faults just genre-typical for villians, but this one even kills a good friend of the hero just minutes before, so why not Tae-su also?

Moreover, the characters are all drawn very shallow. Jong Doo-hong plays the good cop, who doesn't always abide by the law and is even willing to oversee the mafia membership of his friends. At his side he has Seok-hwan who is played by director Ryoo Seung-wan himself. Only towards the end he steps into the movie's focus, yet still plays the second fiddle to Jong. Nevertheless, neither one of them has a profound character to offer. The small flashbacks to the childhood of the group can't change that fact either. Only at the end these flashbacks manage to establish an emotional involvement of the viewer to the events depicted on screen.
What's really a big flaw, however, is that the chemistry between the two main actors lacks the necessary buddy factor, which normally make these kind of movies work so well.

Only Lee Beom-su as Pil-ho can deliver a character with a little more depth, even though he loses himself in some clichés with his overacting towards the end. Which brings us to yet another big weak point of the film. The audience knows right from the start who the real villian is. The script makes things really easy for the viewer to figure out, and so you have to ask yourself if Ryoo came up with the plot during a cigarette break or something.
But let's get to the film's more positive side. Technically, the movie is absolutely convincing, even if the picture doesn't look as "polished" as we are used to see from Korean productions nowadays. However, there are some pretty inventive cross-fadings, split screens, unusual close-up shots and a dynamic camera movement, that make "The City of Violence" look a little bit comic-like at times, but on the other side also bestows something art-house-like onto the film.

The real highlights are the fights, of course. It shows that it really pays off to have a master of fight choreography like Jong Doo-hong on board. Jong isn't just the most impressive martial arts choreographer of Korea, but also a very skilled martial artist. His fights have that certain kind of dynamic to it, are really inventive and you really see to "art" in these fights, which stands in contrast to what most Korean action movies deliver. Here, you'll clearly see Wushu-, Tae Kwon Do- or even Capoeira influences incorporated into the brawls. Latter one is pretty apparent when you watch the young breakdancers on the street perform their art. Tae-su's and Seok-hwan's chase and fight through the city is almost epic, pumps the adrenalin through your veins and is beautiful to look at. Sadly, the camera oftentimes is too close to the action, so that we don't get to see everything in its full beauty.

However, what's really impressive and breathtaking is the final showdown, which lasts almost 20 minutes. Our protagonists fight themselves through knife-swinging crowds, whereas the director also doesn't cut back on the necessary amount of blood and brutality. The two heroes seem to be two raging whirlwinds, which is especially well brought onto screen by a great bird's eye view. At the end the two have to face four really cool looking bodyguards, who bring even more style into the fights with their different fighting techniques. And that's also what it's all about, here: stylish fights. If you don't ask for anything more, then you'll get a fast-paced and engaging action ride. The sets of the final showdown stand out because of the director's great eye for small details and may remind those who are not familiar with Asian cinema of the carnage in "Kill Bill". In fact, director Ryoo, as well as his colleague Tarantino, find great inspiration in old Asian (resp. Japanese) classics and Ryoo mixes some well-fitting western-score to it.

The movie's missteps are easy to point out. Especially at the beginning everything seems a bit pointless and mixed-up, but when the action kicks in eventually, "The City of Violence" can easily win us over. The pacing continuously gains momentum and martial arts fans absolutely get their money's worth. Therefore, as for me, the movie remains a at the same time frustrating and exciting experience. Actually, the film doesn't deserve that much leniency, but I will nevertheless turn a blind eye (and even a second one) on the many flaws, as I had a lot of fun with this action spectacle. Moreover, "The City of Violence" is finally something close to a real martial arts film from Korea. And that's not something you see every day...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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