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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No Mercy (Yong-seo-neun Eobs-da) 2010

Sol Kyung-gu was the first Korean actor whose name I remembered and after his extraordinary turn in Peppermint Candy (1999) I was convinced that he was someone to look out for. Sure enough, as I poured myself deeper into Korean film I came across Public Enemy (2002) and Oasis (2002), which further cemented him in my eyes as a great actor. After his earlier works, a lot of which were arthouse films, Sol’s career trajectory took a turn. How can I say this, he became a bankable star. Kang Woo-suk’s Public Enemy trilogy made millions and turned into one of the country’s most well-known names. He then starred in an even bigger project, the short-lived highest-grossing Korean film that was Silmido (2003), also by Kang. Beyond that he became a consistent presence at the Blue Dragon and Grand Bell awards (Korea’s most prestigious industry awards ceremonies), the highlight being when he was double-nominated in 2005 for Public Enemy 2 (2005) and Rikidozan (2004). After this it starts to get a little spotty: Another Public Enemy film called… Another Public Enemy (2008); some very successful but somewhat underwhelming blockbusters, Voice of a Murderer (2007) and Tidal Wave (2009); and then in 2010 he made a film about a man connected to the police whose daughter is kidnapped by another man whose bidding he must do to ensure her safety. Wait! He actually made two of those, they are called No Mercy and Troubleshooter.

Sol Kyung-gu in familiar territory
While most of the films that Sol lends his name to these days range from decent to quite good, the problem is that he is horrendously typecast. This is a common phenomenon in most industrialized national cinemas but Sol takes the cake. He invariably plays emasculated men who are single fathers who must protect and/or save their daughters. It is a very specific kind of typecasting and one would wonder why producers think that audiences could still accept him within such confined parameters. The truth is that these films are making a lot of cash, Troubleshooter, his most recent, scored nearly 2 million admissions on the back of his name and a thin premise. It’s little unfortunate that the formula is working as that indicates that we will have to put up with the same Sol characters for a while yet. His best recent role was probably his ethereal cameo in 2009’s wonderful A Brand New Life, which harkens back to the roles that began his career in earnest.

It seems to me that with No Mercy the producers thought they would make a film that ticks a few boxes and lends itself to being marketed overseas under the popular Asia extreme moniker. First off, it stars Sol Kyung-go, who despite my already noted reservations, is one of Korea’s most exportable stars. The premise is dark and twisted and the revenge formula that is predominant in the narrative is nothing new in Korean film. All this is well and good and the film trundles along at a good pace and is never less than engaging. The performances from Sol and the ever versatile Ryoo Seung-beom are strong and production values, if not the best Korea can offer, are top notch. The end of the film is what really gets me, it it was uninspired and worse made me look over that which had already played out very poorly.

Ryoo Seung-beom as the suspect
Sol plays Kang Min-hom a pathology professor who is frequently employed as an expert by the police. After a grisly murder takes place he and Detective Min Seo-yeong (Han Hye-jin) work together to apprehend the killer (Ryoo Seung-beom). They do so but as Kang is at the airport waiting for his daughter he receives word from the jailed suspect through an accomplice that he has his daughter and to see her alive again he must get him out. Thus he must try to mislead the police, perjure himself, taint evidence, and all sorts of degrading and dishonorable things for the sake of his daughter’s life. The past and memory feature prominently as more is revealed of the characters in the film through flashback, which is typical in melodramatic Korean cinema.

*Spoilers ahead

Unlike most Hollywood films but not unsurprising for the local industry, things do not turn out well. This is an interesting phenomenon in of itself but I don’t think this is the best film to discuss it with. But I think that Kang’s malfeasances and the hardships that befall him and other characters have a certain sense of inevitability to them. For example, his daughter was born with a genetic disorder, if I understood correctly she was a hemophiliac. This is both very a propos but also very trite as she will of course be sacrificed and will thus bleed for her family, it would seem this is her destiny.

The end is lifted in big spoonfuls from Oldboy (2003) and given that the production has nowhere near that prestige pic feel, this is a giant mistake which serves to derail what should have been a solid, albeit standard, thriller.

*End of Spoilers*

"Graphic" autopsy
The film tries very hard to be hard boiled and dark. There are a number of autopsy scenes that are meant go the distance to make you squirm (although they look kind of ridiculous) and even some surprisingly graphic sex scenes but they feel tacked on and do nothing to help the narrative. It’s unfortunate that the proceedings become so obvious as the film progresses because I feel that the film had quite a lot of potential. The early red herring that is supposed to explain the murder is far more interesting and original than what ends up happening. Oh well, maybe next time. In the meantime: Mr. Sol, please get a new agent before you become completely irrelevant!


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1 comment:

  1. no download links?? haha just kidding, good review/site

    ReplyDelete