A script brimming with crime, comedy and poignancy gives thesp Song Kang-ho free rein in gangster yarn "The Show Must Go On."

A script brimming with crime, comedy and (finally) poignancy gives top South Korean thesp Song Kang-ho (“The Host”) free rein in gangster yarn “The Show Must Go On.” Criminal elements dominate, but pic swings freely from laughs to drama before settling for a more somber tone in its final quarter. Eagerly awaited by local auds, this April release should garner solid returns based purely on Song’s presence. Internationally, chances look promising, particularly in Asian territories with an established interest in Korean fare.

Drunken gangster Kang In-gu (Song), head of the Dogs, is late for a date with his henchmen, who’ve kidnapped a property developer. They’ve been unable to persuade their hostage to sign over an apartment construction project to the gang, so In-gu delivers a fearsome beating to get the desired result.

Next day, In-gu has lunch with childhood buddy Hyun-su (Oh Dal-su), a member of a rival gang, the Jaguars. While Hyun-su thought he had cut a deal with In-gu about the construction development, their disagreement descends into a childish water fight — the main bone of contention being some girl the crims knew in their teens.

When he’s called in with his wife, Mi-ryung (Park Ji-young), to discuss their daughter’s plummeting grades at school, In-gu’s response is equally unsophisticated. While In-gu’s behavior embarrasses his wife and daughter and fuels the latter’s teenage rebellion, it provides plenty of laughs onscreen. South Korean films, regardless of genre, are noteworthy for their violent content, and the brutality here will amuse those with an appetite for black humor.

As an internal and external gang war escalates, with In-gu at the disruptive center, pic becomes increasingly bloody, though it maintains a lighthearted tone. Just as pic seems to have trivialized In-gu’s chaotic life and provided more laughs than his family or the yarn can bear, writer-director Han Jae-rim’s script corrects the balance in the final quarter.

Song is able to explore all aspects of the lumbering screen persona he established, in a supporting role as a gangster, in Song Neung-han’s 1997 “No. 3.” Other thesps impress without being overshadowed by the dynamic central perf.

Helming by “Rules of Dating” scripter-director Han shows good command of his material. A very funny battle between gangsters and construction workers becomes a fabulously physical tableau that’s a tribute to Han’s directorial finesse and his agile stunt team. However, use of jump-cuts within scenes and a jerky, “NYPD”-like camera could annoy some viewers. Tightening of the midsection’s lighthearted elements would also lift momentum.

Technical credits are excellent. Korean title ironically translates as “Wonderful World.”

The Show Must Go On

South Korea

Production

A Lotte Entertainment release and presentation, in association with Nexus Investment Corp., ISU Venture Capital Co., Sovik Venture Capital Co., Star M Entertainment, MBC, Torino Corp., of a Lucy Film, Caramel Entertainment production. (International sales: Lotte, Seoul.) Produced by Kang Tae-woo, Jung Young-joo. Executive producer, Kim Kwang-seop. Co-executive producer, Choi Geon-yong. Directed, written by Han Jae-rim.

Crew

Camera (color), Park Yong-soo; editor, Kim Sun-min; music, Kanno Yoko; production designer, Lee Min-bok; art director, Kim Gu-mi; sound (Dolby Digital), Lee Sang-wook. Reviewed at Hong Kong FilMart, March 21, 2007. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Song Kang-ho, Park Ji-young, Oh Dal-su, Yoon Jae-moon, Choi Il-hwa, Kim So-eun, Min Do-kee, Lee Jong-kwan, Lee Jang-hun.

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