A TRIO FROM SOUTH KOREA Reviewed by Steve Kirkham

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    A TRIO FROM SOUTH KOREA

    Blue Finch Film Releasing. Digital. Out Now
    Three films from South Korea are seeing digital release – two have been available variously before and one, FOUL KING, is making it’s debut.
    Best of the bunch is A BITTERSWEET LIFE (2005, Dalkomhan insaeng) (4 stars). Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a highly trusted ‘fixer’ of mob boss Mr. Kang (Kim Yong-cheol). The opening sequence establishes that Sun-woo is a bad ass who can fight his corner.
    He is given the task of watching over the head honcho’s much younger girlfriend Hee-soo (Shin Min-a), whilst Kang is away on business, as he suspects she is cheating on him. If that proves to be the case then he is to “deal with it”. Realising she IS playing away, the young mobster has a fit of morality and decides not to kill her and her lover. Big mistake. He then spends the rest of the film either being tortured, beaten up and at one point being buried alive! He must fight back to stay alive.
    Slickly and stylishly directed by Jung Doo Hong and Jee-woon Kim, this is often teeth clenchingly violent. Lee Byung-hun makes for a dynamic and charismatic lead as he uses all his skills to try to survive. There’s plentiful martial arts fighting and gunplay to keep action fans satiated – it wouldn’t be a stretch to see this as an influence on the JOHN WICK movies.
    Running it a close second is THE CHASER (2008, Chugyeokja) (4 stars). Ex police detective Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) now runs a small prostitution ring. Several of his girls have gone missing. When one of his best ladies, Mi-Jin (Yong-Hee) also disappears he soon realises one client connects them all via a phone number ending in 4885. Believing they are being sold off, he decides to take matters into his own hands and tracks down Young-nun Jee (Ha Jung-woo) who, in police custody, admits to being a serial killer.
    It then becomes a race against time to try to gather enough evidence to actually prosecute the creepy murderer and hopefully find Mi-Jin alive.
    This is a gripping, often unflinchingly brutal thriller (the South Korean’s are good at this kind of thing and rarely shy away from full-on violence). Kim Yoon-Seok is great in the somewhat unsympathetic lead role and Ha Jung-woo is suitably scary as the sinister and menacing maniac.
    The outlier, if you will, of this trio is FOUL KING (2000, Banchikwang) (3 stars), a comedy about an inept and cowardly bank clerk Im Dae-ho (Song Kang-ho) who isn’t very good at his job and is constantly berated by his boss, who one day puts him in a headlock which he can’t extricate himself from.
    Dae-ho eventually finds himself at a rundown wrestling school – and ostensibly goes in there just to try and learn how to get out of a headlock! But when a promoter approaches the old man who runs the place to find someone who can be trained up to be a wrestler, in order to actually throw a fight, he decides to give the downtrodden banker a chance. As long as he agrees to follow the “script” of the final fight… of course you know where this is heading.
    Thus follows a slightly overlong, often quite silly comedy, with juvenile humour at times and Song Kang-ho suitably buffoonish in the lead. I suspect this has been picked up for release due to his starring role in the Oscar winning PARASITE (2019) – though he has had a long career appearing in many well known films like SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002), MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) and THE HOST (2006).
    The film is directed by Jee-won Kim, in common with A BITTERSWEET LIFE, and is different to much of his known output which includes A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003) and I SAW THE DEVIL (2010).
    Steve Kirkham

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