Less ambitious than the recent “Arahan” and “Crying Fist,” but with a more compact visceral power, “The City of Violence” harks back to the earlier slugfests of South Korea’s poet of pugilism, Ryoo Seung-wan. Story of former friends who find themselves pitted against each other when a colleague is killed is basically one long lead-up to an eye-popping final battle, but gains depth and flavor from perfs by its three leads, in particular popular comic Lee Beom-su in his first villainous role. Fantasy and Asian-oriented fests will line up for this one, prior to sturdy action on specialist ancillary.
Since opening locally June 25, pic has fought its way to a healthy 1 million admissions (around $6 million), OK under the World Cup circumstances.
Det. Jeong Tae-su (martial arts ace Jeong Du-hong) returns to his hometown of Eonseong for the funeral of Wang-jae (Ahn Gil-gang), a high-school buddy. There he reconnects with members of their onetime teenage gang, including Ryoo Seok-hwan (helmer Ryoo), still a brawler by nature, and Jang Pil-ho (Lee), the former doofus of the group who’s now a fancily dressed thug with a log-sized chip on his shoulder.
Suspicious about Wang-jae’s death, which they think is connected with a land deal in which Jang is involved, Ryoo and Jeong finally decide to take on the sleazy Jang. Epic finale — which involves the duo battling dozens of Jang’s henchman on the grounds and buildings of an old-fashioned Korean restaurant — involves fists, martial arts and swords, with Morricone-ish Mexican-style music to match.
Though the plot’s trajectory is simple, opening reels unnecessarily complicate things with too many subsidiary characters and detail, including a wacky flashback montage (complete with a song) showing the protags in their younger, punky days. But as Lee gradually comes to the fore in a terrific perf as the slimy Jang, the various elements coalesce, with Jeong providing some whiplash martial arts smarts and Ryoo solid as his shorter-fused sidekick.
Tech elements are pro with no special gloss, and the atmosphere of the medium-sized hometown is well caught. Korean title roughly means “A Pair of Cards,” referring to the Jeong/Ryoo duo.