Weird isn’t the word I would use to describe the latest entry in the Shootout At High Noon Marathon!
Screenplay By: Jee-woon Kim & Min-suk Kim
Directed By: Jee-woon Kim
I haven’t used the word exhilaration much on the blog, but I am going to use it now. It took mere moments for Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom to grab me and thrill me, to leave me with a total feeling of exhilaration. Take the opening train sequence for instance, I can’t think of a more bombastic and fast moving heist/gunfight sequence I’ve seen recently. That scene has a frenetic energy to it, it starts off slow but it builds and builds until it explodes. Once it does explode it never lets up, Jee-woon Kim assaults the viewer in every way possible. The sound is loud, the images whiz past, and characters come and go at an alarming rate of speed. Yet, it works, in every possible way the scene works, and it left me giddy while trying to catch my breath.
The feeling of exhilaration never leaves Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom, even in its quiet moments the film is like a powder keg waiting to go, BOOM! What most surprised me was how effortlessly the director, the already mentioned Jee-woon Kim, was able to pour so much atmosphere into the film. The frenetic energy I spoke of earlier isn’t restricted merely to the action scenes or gunfights. I never knew what was going to happen from one scene to the next, and based on something we will talk of later this is perhaps the highest praise I can give Mr. Kim’s film. He mixes and mashes genres in Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom in such a way that my expectations of the film were constantly turned upside down. One moment the film was a comedy, the next moment the film leaned towards action tendencies, and there’s even some drama and revenge flick moments tossed in as well. Mr. Kim puts all of these genres into a blender and creates one of the best milkshakes I’ve ever tasted.
I understand that Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom isn’t exactly original. It’s no secret, it’s an open fact actually, that Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom is Sergio Leone’s Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo. set in the Far East. This could be a negative, and in the hands of a lesser director like Quentin Tarantino it would be a a negative. What Jee-woon Kim does that someone like Tarantino would never do is to do something with the original material he is borrowing from. When Mr. Kim uses the character of Yoon Tae-goo he isn’t just redoing Eli Wallach’s Tuco. Tae-goo is a complete original, the template of Tuco is present in him but so much is done to add to the character of Tae-goo that he never feels ripped off or without substance. I wish I could say this of other films that borrow heavily from films that have come before hand, but usually I can’t. I know there are other films that borrow heavily from previous films and are good, that’s why I bring up Tarantino. He borrows more than any other director I can think of, but unlike Mr. Kim he never does anything with the material he borrows, he presents it the exact same way it was in its original format. Mr. Kim doesn’t do that, he takes a film, an idea, or a character that already exists and takes that film, idea, or character to new and interesting places.
Speaking of the characters in Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom, I absolutely adored every single one of them. I already had a deep fondness for Byung-hun Lee, he played Park Chang-yi. My fondness for Kang-ho Song, he played Yoon Tae-goo, has already been documented as being well beyond fond. Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom was my first exposure to Woo-sung Jung, he played Park Do-won, but his stoic performance immediately grabbed me. I can’t think of three actors who would do better with these characters as they are presented in Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom. Each of the three actors played into the types that the film was establishing for them. But, as the film changed and the characters surprised me with the turns they took the actors were right there, making sure that the changes were completely believable.
Instead of finishing this review by talking about the cinematography in Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom, it is beautifully shot in a way that I think is obvious, I’m going to talk about the violence. I recently got into a debate with a guy who I do not for a second regret calling a pox upon humanity. He has a way of arguing that is instantly trollish and allows for no opinion but his own. That is neither here nor there, the reason I bring up the debate I had with this individual is because it was a debate about violence in Korean cinema. Based on what he said during that debate, Korean cinema is exploitative in an absolute sense, I can only imagine that he would have hated Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom with a passion. If one doesn’t get the same sense of exhilaration that I did, I can understand them thinking the violence in the film was excessive and unnecessary. I, however, feel that the violence ramped up as the film moved along to coincide with the powder keg build to the film that I spoke of earlier. The violence is slick, there’s no doubt about that, but it means to be slick and it never hides that fact. It’s also a lot of fun, and the violence drives the atmosphere of the film so hard that it is the furthest one can get from bad exploitative film making.
I’ve said a lot about Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom, perhaps I’ve said too much. The more films I discover from Jee-woon Kim the more I want to talk about his work. Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom is yet another of his works that left me extremely happy to be a lover of cinema. I still haven’t come down from the energy that Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom emits, I don’t get high but in my mind this is what getting high would feel like. I’ve been quite effusive in my praise for Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom and Jee-woon Kim, but it’s deserving praise. It’s not often that a film that so heavily borrows from the original improves on said original, but Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom does, and if people need a reason to see it, that’s as good of a reason as any other.
Read Edgar’s thoughts at Between The Seats.