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Original Title:
Kim-gwanjang dae Kim-gwanjang dae Kim-gwanjang

South Korea 2007

Comedy, Action

Park Seong-gyun

Shin Hyeon-jun
Choi Seong-guk
Kwon Oh-jung
Oh Seung-hyeon
Jeong Jun-ha
Jang Joon-yeong
Moon Won-ju
Li Han-wi
No Ju-hyeon
Park Cheol-min
Tak Jae-hun

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Three Kims

aka Master Kims; Three Masters; Master Kim vs. Master Kim vs. Master Kim

Story: Kim Kuan-jang (Shin Hyeon-jun) is leading a school of the traditional Korean martial art Taekkyon. His rival is the Kendo-master Kim Kwan-jang (Choi Seong-guk) who is teaching at the same building. The two clash on several occassions and moreover even fall in love with the same woman, the daughter of their landlord (Oh Seung-hyeon). Furthermore, Kuan-jang's son is disappointed by his father, because he doesn't want to teach him secret martial art techniques. Therefore, he secretly also becomes a disciple of the Kendo-master.
The two Kims are not only hostile to each other, but they have also become lazy and conceited. However, there is a new threat arising. Another martial arts teacher opens his school in the same building the two other Kims have their dojos at.
Kim Suk-ho (Kwon Oh-jung) teaches Kung Fu and is a very ambitious trainer, who soon also wins over the disciples of the other schools. As things are, he also falls in love with the daughter of the landlord, eventually. A duel between the three shall decide who is worthy of the girl's hand.
Things get really serious, though, when a gangster organisation settles down in town and wants to buy all the houses in order to build their own town on the property. The three Kims got to lay aside their quarrel and work on the same end to overcome this crisis.

Review: When looking at Korea there will be only very few martial arts movies you will find. Therefore, it seems a welcome experiment of Korean filmmakers to mix martial arts with comedy. Unfortunately, after a few minutes into the movie, we have to find out that this comedy is less inventive than we had hoped for. Moreover, the characters are too comic-like and the action somewhat lack the necessary power and impact. Of course, this all would have been excusable, if at least the humor would have hit the right notes most of the time, but sadly the jokes only succeed in evoking a smile on a 50/50 basis. What's left is not much. "Three Kims" may be entertaining to a certain degree, but it just lacks any well done jokes. The action can't make up for this flaw either.

Granted, it's nice to watch Kuan-jang and Kwan-jang make their lives a living hell. They surely aren't what you would call a master of a martial art, or at least that's what it looks like at first and second glance. Kuan-jang is a loser, who prefers to find bad excuses to avoid any fight or who just sneaks out of them any way possible. Fighting is the last resort of a true martial artist and if a fight cannot be avoided then you already lost it in a moral sense, according to the philosophy of martial arts. True words, indeed, but coming out from Kuan-jang's mouth they carry no weight at all. He just is your typical loser, who always ends up disappointing his son, and furthermore looks like as if he jumped right out of a comic with his dimwitted face expressions. Shin Hyeon-jun ("Shadowless Sword", "Guns and Talks") can do a lot better than that, and it's a shame seeing his acting skills go to waste with this one-dimensional portrayal of a dopey guy.

Kendo-master Kim, played by Choi Seong-guk, is a little bit more interesting. He always tries to impress his students with profound Japanese idioms, although he isn't even capable of hurting someone with his boken in a real fight if he wanted to, even though he is actually quite skilled.
The picture that is drawn of the two Kims is almost the one of an old couple. The two never miss an opportunity to walk all over each other, but actually they are obviously really good friends.
Kwon Oh-jung, who already made an impression on me in the drama mini-series "Damo", can't portray a very multilayered individual as the Kung Fu master, but he scores with his martial arts performances, which he apparently all did himself. His moves may not look that perfect at times (but who am I to judge?), yet they are impressive enough that he can absolutely convince as a Kung Fu master.
What part Oh Seung-hyeon is playing in this film is not quite clear. Sure, she is supposed to drive a wedge between the three Kims, but her character remains so incredibly shallow, that you can almost see through her.

Story and character aren't the strengths of this flick, that much should have become apparent. And despite quite a few wacky characters, the jokes never really hit the mark. This is fatal when it comes to a comedy. At least there are a bunch of fight scenes, that can make up for this. Most of them involve Kwon Oh-jung, who even is allowed to face whole armees of bad guys at times, but the other two join the fights, too, every now and then. However, Shin Hyeon-jun, who hides behind a mask, surely was replaced by a double. Still, it is nice to finally see one of the traditional Korean martial arts on screen. With its dancing-like elements Taekkyon reminds us a little bit of Capoeira, yet it is by far not that acrobatic. Still, its moves are very fluent, though.
Unfortunately, "Three Kims" doesn't really know how to sell its fights. Oftentimes they lack the necessary speed and power, and moreover they don't serve the story in any way. This really becomes frustrating in the final battle, where we would have hoped for more, concerning all the contrived tension that was build around a mafia organisation that tries to threaten the three Kims.

Especially when it comes to the plot revolving around the mafia it becomes obvious how many flaws there are. There should have been more tension and drama for this narrative strand to have any right to be in this flick. The resolving of Teakkyon-Kim's past is everything but surprising either. Furthermore, it's a shame that many of the jokes just feel too forced and get dragged into ridiculousness because of Shin Hyeon-jun's overacting.
"Three Kims" is like the performance of a low-grade martial artist. The form may look nice and entertaining for the inexperienced eye, but there is nothing happening under the surface. There is no energy, no Qi, that is put into the moves, giving them a meaning and expression. Therefore, this excercise of a martial arts comedy is nothing more than an empty shell, that lacks the necessary depth and power, as well as the humor, for us to really care about it.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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