When the attempt to kill a professor goes wrong, a series of violent events are triggered which force a taxi driver to run for his life.When the attempt to kill a professor goes wrong, a series of violent events are triggered which force a taxi driver to run for his life.When the attempt to kill a professor goes wrong, a series of violent events are triggered which force a taxi driver to run for his life.
Well-made but too gritty to really enjoy
The latest Korean thriller to make the international leap is quite an event. Weighing in at a respectable 140 minutes (still 17 minutes shorter than the Korean version) it is filled to the brim with as much grit as anyone could wish for. I knew from the opening voice-over that I wasn't in for a barrel of laughs. The cold monotone relating the tale of a childhood pet dog that died of rabies set the tone for the uncompromisingly grim two-and-a-bit hours to follow. The story follows Gu-Nam, a taxi-driver struggling to make ends meet in a province between Korea and China. His wife has moved away to earn money but hasn't made contact.. In an impossible hole of debt, he is offered a way out. He has to go to Korea and kill someone there. The gangster (the ruthless and unflappable Myun) offering this once-in-a- lifetime chance will, of course, kill his family if he fails. Not, you might think, a terribly original plot idea but there are a number of qualities which make it rather special. First, the setting; South Korea's major cities provide a wonderfully bleak backdrop to the action and much of this is rather beautifully showcased by director Hong-Jin Na. But more than this, the film gives an insight into aspects of Korean culture never normally seen by the Western world, particularly the discrimination against the region Gu-Nam is from (the name of which I will not attempt to type). However, the film's defining feature must be its sheer, visceral grit. Everything, including our desperate protagonist feels painful and dirty. The bloody fight scenes are utterly devoid of glamour and deliberately so. Sadly however, this also robbed them, for me at least, of much of the charm I normally find in well-choreographed fight scenes. This is a trend continued throughout the film. The story, though fairly linear, is complicated by a plethora of characters and the audience is given little to nothing in the way of tantalising hints to lead us through. Essentially, Na has gone out of his way to produce as brutal and harsh a film as he could and, in the process, sacrificed a great deal of potential enjoyment.
- Oct 23, 2011
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