Review: ‘The City of Violence’

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.

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.

The City of Violence

South Korea

Production

A CJ Entertainment (in South Korea)/The Weinstein Co. (in U.S.) release of a CJ Entertainment presentation of a Filmmaker R&K production, in association with Seoul Action School. (International sales: CJ, Seoul.) Produced by Kang Hye-jeong, Jeong Du-hong, Ryoo Seung-wan. Executive producer, Kim Ju-seong. Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan. Screenplay, Lee Weon-jae, Ryoo, Kim Jeong-min.

Crew

Camera (color), Kim Yeong-cheol; editor, Nam Na-yeong; music, Bang Jun-seok; art director, Jo Hwa-seong; costume designer, Jo Sang-gyeong; sound (Dolby SRD), Jo Min-ho; sound designer, Jang Gwang-su; visual effects, Lee Deuk-jin; martial arts supervisors, Jeong Du-hong, Jeong Chang-hyeon; assistant director, Kim Hyo-seok. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 18, 2006. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Jeong Du-hong, Ryoo Seung-wan, Lee Beom-su, Kim Seo-hyeong, Ahn Gil-gang.
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