Nine years after "Yellow" introduced director Chris Chan Lee as a significant Korean-American voice in independent filmmaking, the helmer returns with sophomore outing "Undoing," a hit-and-miss Los Angeles-based noir in which characters with half-drawn pasts risk everything for a not terribly large sum of money.
Nine years after “Yellow” introduced director Chris Chan Lee as a significant Korean-American voice in independent filmmaking, the helmer returns with sophomore outing “Undoing,” a hit-and-miss Los Angeles-based noir in which characters with half-drawn pasts risk everything for a not terribly large sum of money. Uneven crime component is a decoy for what’s really going on as a loner, disconnected both from his Asian heritage and his American upbringing, struggles to reconcile where he belongs. Stylish low-budget treatment should fare well with fests, but elliptical storytelling and action deficit could be pic’s undoing with auds.
Lee penned the screenplay after returning from a one-year stint directing television in Singapore, and pic mirrors that homecoming, opening with lead character Sam Kim’s (Sung Kang) return from Asia, where he fled for a year after witnessing the brutal Koreatown killing of his best friend, petty drug dealer Joon (Leonardo Nam).
Sam returns determined to bury Joon, avenge his murder and ride off into the sunset with beautiful ex-girlfriend Vera (Kelly Hu).
If “True Romance” was the gonzo extreme of the genre, “Undoing” is more of a mood piece, although there are touches — such as the Asian hit man who channels Christopher Walken — that suggest Lee may have had that more bullet-riddled Tarantino script in mind. Sam spends most of the pic drowning in the guilt associated with his friend’s death, preoccupied with the idea of “repaying” those he let down — Joon’s parents, the girlfriend he abandoned — in cash.
Inexperienced when it comes to hustling dirty cops and drug dealers, Sam would be dead meat if it weren’t for Don Osa (Tom Bower), the grizzled old gangster who’s got his back. Don, like all the pic’s other characters, arrives with an aura of cool but no backstory, an approach that lends “Undoing” an unintentional “Memento”-like quality as auds scramble to understand how each abruptly introduced new character poses a fresh obstacle to his plan.
Even if Sam’s scam does succeed, he only stands to earn $25,000 for his troubles.
Perhaps Sam also shares Lee’s gift for making the most of limited means (pic was shot on HD, intermixed with other formats). From the night-lit asphalt drag of a Koreatown joyride to the hazy windshield glare of Los Feliz by day, Lee evokes the character of his varied Los Angeles environments, even if the human element feels as if it’s been done — and undone — before.