CITY OF VIOLENCE (2007)
When retired gang leader Wang-Jae is murdered, detective Tae-Soo returns to his hometown for the first time in ten years after leaving to become a detective in Seoul. Tae-Soo reunites with his old high school friends to say farewell to Wang-Jae, but feels that something is not right about his death. With his fists and temper at his side, Tae-Soo uses the power of the law to stir up a few hornet nests trying to figure out just what happened. For his troubles, Tae-Soo is beset by multiple gangs, all trying to keep Tae-Soo from finding out too much. But with his friend Seok-Hwan at his side, whose fists are just as merciless, Tae-Soo starts tearing through the lies, deceptions, and criminal activity setting up shop in the tourist district. And when he finally gets someone to talk, he learns that it may just be their mutual friend Pil-Ho behind the murder.
Ryoo Seung-Wan, who both directs and stars as Seok-Hwan, may not be pushing any boundaries with this 2006 action-drama from South Korea, but his style and enthusiasm more than make up for treading in safe waters. Ryoo, who has previously brought fan favorites NO BLOOD NO TEARS, ARAHAN and CRYING FIST to the screen, once again dives head first into a world of brotherhood, betrayal, and sacrifice, which are themes that should be more than familiar to those who have swam in the waters of South East Asian cinema. Using a series of flashbacks and storytelling, Ryoo gets all of the characters and their relationships set up quite quickly, but by no means skimps on their depth. Even given the film’s short time devoted to the character build-up, Ryoo shows his strength at giving the audience all the information they need to understand what is going on.
Beyond the characters, Ryoo shows once again his talent at bringing brutal street fighting to the screen with finesse and style. Though Ryoo and Jung Doo-Hong, who stars as Tae-Soo, are able to show off their tae kwon-do training, a majority of the fights are pure and simple brawls, with just enough choreography so the stunt team doesn’t kill each other. Ryoo explains in the audio commentary that they would just set up multiple cameras, have everyone fight in one huge take, and then edit the sequence later. This style allows for Ryoo’s nigh-trademark film speed adjustments and quick editing, while keeping all the characters and their actions easy to follow, and the tone of the fight consistent.
The two major fight sequences are simply jaw-dropping, and even if you may be slightly turned off by melodramatic friendships and betrayal, they are worth a rental at the very least to see. The first features Tae-Soo, in a possible homage to THE WARRIORS, as he fights solo against five gangs — including a breakdancing gang, a BMX gang, a gang of schoolgirls, a gang of schoolboys, and a baseball team with face paint — that each have their own unique uniform and fight style. The second sequence takes up the final twenty minutes of the ninety minute running time, which features Tae-Soo and Seok-Hwan fighting their way through stage after stage of fighters a la GAME OF DEAT or a martial arts video game in order to get to the “final boss.” Each stage features different fighting styles, different weapons and different enemies, with Ryoo changing up the accompanying music and camera work to keep your interest for every minute!