The City of Violence (짝패)
Wonder no more why the fights in Far Eastern films often seem to pause at critical moments: it’s because everybody’s really breakdancing. Director Ryu Seung-wan presents a credible reason for this by making one set of assailants in THE CCITY OF VIOLENCE body bop along the pavement before simultaneously all pulling handstands. Along with the audience, the hero gapes in bewilderment before lobbing a BMX at them to break the ice.
Unusually for the fight genre, Ryu Seung-wan gives his cast something to do other than gesticulate, by serving up a betrayal drama with a bit of depth. When cop Tae-su (Jung Doo-hong) returns to his home for the friend’s funeral the official story doesn’t wash. Tae-su teams up with petty thug Seok-hwan (played by the director) to find out what really happened. Part of a circle of friends who’ve since gone their separate ways on both sides of the law, everything leads back to one of their own, rising gangster Pil-ho.
Investing his verve for knuckle-dusting choreography, Ryu Seung-wan excels himself in THE CITY OF VIOLENCE with one playful composition after another. The dancing thugs, for example, are just part of a homage to Walter Hill’s THE WARRIORS. As the back-story exerts itself, the friends get their very own 80s version of STAND BY ME. Except that this being a South Korean action film, it means mass brawling and kids getting their faces crushed. Yet the flashback exists to show how the main characters used to get along, so Ryu Seung-wan shows them in freeze-frame leaping joyfully into puddles between the carnage.
Back in the present, THE CITY OF VIOLENCE exercises Ryu Seung-wan’s rare ability to make pummelling fascinating. One standout in the final dust-up almost breaks out of the film with its serenity. Tae-su and Seok-hwan burst in upon two couples dining in a tiny room with sliding doors, at which point a succession of doors open into the distance revealing many such rooms and diners. The scene recalls the coloured rooms in Roger Corman’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. The women rise, bow and excuse themselves before it all kicks off. Simple, jaw-dropping, delightful; it perfectly shows off Ryu Seung-wan’s flair for spectacle.
THE CITY OF VIOLENCE screened as part of the London Korean Film Festival. Ryu Seung-Wan will be at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse on Friday for Q&A following the first KFF screening.
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