Film – The City of Violence

Year of release – 2006

Country- South Korea

Stars – Ryoo Seung-wan, Jung Doo-hong, Lee Beom-soo

Dir. – Ryoo Seung-wan

Sometime around the mid 2000’s, there was an explosion of interest in cinema from South Korea. Western audiences, particularly here in the UK, lapped up all the offerings of this diverse film industry. With a wide range of films now readily available to consumers around the world, a number of gems have been revealed to fans who may have missed them the first time around, and one of those is The City Of Violence. Like my previous Martial Arts Movie Madness entry, Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow, The City of Violence is a film that may not necessarily be well known amongst the casual fan, but it delivers some crunching fight scenes, beautiful cinematography, and that quirky sense of humour that the South Koreans pull off so well. It is a film that is well worthy of it’s place amongst my choices for Martial Arts Movie Madness.

When their childhood friend is murdered, four men reunite at his funeral for the first time in twenty years. At the funeral we meet Tae Su (Jung Doo-hong), who is now a big city cop, Seok Hwan (Ryoo Seung-wan) currently working as a debt collector, his older brother Dong hwan (Jung Suk-yong), a Maths teacher struggling with drug addiction, and Pil-ho (Lee Beom-soo), the soon to be head of the local mafia. At the funeral, Tae Su and Seok Hwan decide to track down their friend’s killer, with Seok Hwan swearing to get revenge. As the two men start to follow up on a few leads, they begin to uncover a conspiracy involving the crime syndicate, a land development deal and a number of dodgy investments. As more threads on the tightly wound plot unravel, Tae Su, Seok Hwan and Pil-ho head towards their inevitable confrontation and with the stakes as high as they are, don’t bet on anyone walking away from this with a few cuts and bruises..

Brutal is the word that comes to mind when thinking of this film. Director and star Ryoo Seung-wan is clearly not interested in pulling any punches, and the film practically revels in it’s violence. That’s not that the film is particularly gory, there are certainly ‘bloodier’ martial arts movies that I have seen, but every punch, kick, slash and thrust will leave you wincing with mixture of fear and shared pain for the actors. The City Violence makes damn sure that everything you see on the screen looks as authentic as possible. Speaking of the look of the film, it truly excels at delivering some great visuals thanks to the award winning cinematography of Kim Yeong-cheol. The South Korean film industry seems to be blessed with some wonderfully talented cameraman and Yeong-cheol is no exception. Whether he is filming fight scenes or framing the lush Korean countryside, he delivers a true feast for the eyes.

The actors all fulfil their roles well, and leading men Jung Doo-hong and Ryoo Seung-wan stand out as a ass-kicking double act. Jung Doo is the straight laced city cop who wants to play by the book and bring the killer in to face justice, whilst Ryoo’s Seok Hwan just wants to break arms,legs and faces until somebody pays. The real star of the piece is Lee Beom-soo as Pil-ho. As a greedy, wise-cracking, cowardly foil, Beom-soo damn near steals the film. Every time he is on screen, he’s guaranteed to get some reaction out of you, whether you are laughing at his zingy one liners or hating him for his betrayals. There’s a hilarious torture scene in the film (those words wouldn’t normally be in the same sentence but trust me on this!) where Pil-ho’s frustration with the victim’s unwillingness to talk results in a string of verbal abuse that is as funny as it is horrifying.

Like other Korean action movies, this film strikes a good balance between plot development and action, and when the fight scenes come along, they are well worth the wait. Jung Doo-hong serves as the films 2nd unit and action director, and he crafts a number of memorable fight scenes, including what can only be described as a Battle Royal. His character takes on a number of punks armed with baseball bats, hockey sticks, yo-yos, bikes and even breakdancing. It’s only when Seok Hwan comes to the rescue that Doo-hong’s Tae Su has any chance of escaping with his life. A number of different fighting styles are used throughout the movie, from Taekwondo to Boxing to just straight up brawling, but it works fantastically well in reflecting the types of characters we are dealing with and the fact that when you are faced with multiple armed enemies, you just have to do whatever the hell you can to survive.

I can’t recommend this movie to you all strongly enough. It’s actually one of my favourites of the genre because of it’s ability to deliver a bone crushing thrill ride without taking itself too seriously. It looks and sounds terrific, especially on a home cinema system. It’s a memorable, scrappy little movie that punches well above it’s weight and makes it’s presence felt without the flash and fanfare of other genre examples.

If you want to check it out, you can find it at most good online DVD retailers.

Right, that’s your lot for now, see you again soon!

A cosmic, comic book culture consuming, hayfever suffering, cartoon watching ninja, who's stuck in a time-warp. Can often be found watching retro cartoons on YouTube or aggravating my cat.
A cosmic, comic book culture consuming, hayfever suffering, cartoon watching ninja, who’s stuck in a time-warp. Can often be found watching retro cartoons on YouTube or aggravating my cat.