Off Road

A two-time loser finds himself accomplice to a tangled bank heist with Tarantino twists in Korean HD low-budgeter "Off Road." Feature bow by editor Han Seung-ryong ("Untold Scandal," "Resurrection of the Little Match Girl") is visually unspectacular, but handles its smart, innovatively structured tale with narrative clarity.

With:
With: Jo Han-cheol, Park Su-jang, Seonu Seon, Go Seo-heui.

A two-time loser finds himself accomplice to a tangled bank heist with Tarantino twists in Korean HD low-budgeter “Off Road.” Feature bow by editor Han Seung-ryong (“Untold Scandal,” “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl”) is visually unspectacular, but handles its smart, innovatively structured tale with narrative clarity. Dull palette will hamper the pic’s chances of catching auds on the festival circuit’s superhighway, but those with a digital bent will find the script by talented first-timer Kim Gwang-shik a storytelling treat. Local B.O. is also likely to be small as the HD effort is sidelined by bigger, slicker fare.

Taxi driver Sang-hun (Jo Han-cheol) is parked outside a bank, waiting for his bank teller g.f., Ju-heui (Go Seo-heui). Emerging first, after shooting a police officer, is street punk Cheol-gu (Park Su-jang), who hijacks Sang-hun and his taxi.

As the pair journey south from Seoul, flashbacks establish Cheol-gu’s backstory, revealing his hope that illicit cash will allow him to marry the daughter of the auto repair shop manager who fired him the previous day. Additional flashbacks establish that Sang-hun’s presence outside the bank was no mere coincidence; the taxi-driver was waiting to act as his g.f.’s accomplice for a different heist they’d planned for the same day.

The balance of power is repeatedly switched, with the two men taking turns commandeering the gun and the loot. When the robber regains the upper hand, Sang-hun wounds Cheol-gu in the process. Feeling guilty, the cabbie takes Cheol-gu (and the cash) to a love hotel to recuperate.

At the same time as their hotel visit, the local police chief is servicing his prostie g.f., Ji-su (Seonu Seon), who operates out of the same establishment. Ji-su, who recalls Sang-hoon as a longtime hotel customer, gradually becomes a pivotal figure in the unpredictable drama.

Yarn manages to deliver unexpected twists and a light touch that amuses and intrigues, like some of the better American indies of the early ’90s. Helming is unremarkable, and script would have been better serviced by higher-tech credits and more experienced actors.

Performances are OK, but Jo is a tad too convincing as a dull everyman to succeed as the main protag. For an HD lowbudgeter, sound is clear and crisp.

Off Road

South Korea

Production: A Hwal Dong Pictures production, in association with New Cinema Network. (International sales: Hwal Dong, Seoul.) Produced by Han Gi-jeong, Kim Mi-yeong. Directed by Han Seung-ryong. Screenplay, Kim Gwang-shik.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Sung Seung-taek, Yu Seung-man; editor, Ahn Gwang-seob; music, Namgung Gi-chan; art director, Kim Seung-chul; sound, Park Hyeon-jo. Reviewed at Jeonju Film Festival (opener), April 26, 2007. Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: Jo Han-cheol, Park Su-jang, Seonu Seon, Go Seo-heui.

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