Korean Martial Arts
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City of Violence (2006)
8th May 07
A detective returns to his home town for his friend's funeral but ends up investigating the events behind his actual death while getting involved in some good kung fu fights.
It seems that nothing can hold those Korean film makers back at the moment. First we get that Mr Vengeance movies and its sequels, then Oldboy comes along, then we’re gifted with the rather charming Crying Fist, directed by one Ryoo Seung-wan. And I don’t think it’s going to stop as this month we’re going to get the extremely expensive looking Typhoon and this, the more down-to-earth City of Violence, also directed by Ryoo Seung-wan but this time starring in the movie too, with acclaimed martial arts choreographer Jeong Du-hong also stepping up as co-star.
Detective Jeong Tae-su (Jeong Du-hong) returns from Seoul to his hometown of Onsung to attend the funeral of his long-time friend and reformed small-time mobster, Wang-jae (Ahn Gil-gang). Wang-jae had been going it straight for a while now, had married his old friend Pil-ho’s sister and had bought a bar in town which he’d turned into quite a reputable business, all of which went pear-shaped overnight when a disagreement in the bar turned to violence that eventually led to his untimely death. Suffice is to say a lot of old emotions come out at the funeral as Wang-jae’s childhood friends reunite for the first time in decades and reflect on their past, helped along by a couple of Korean style (i.e. with kung fu in them) Stand By Me flashbacks. But after talking to his old buddies and beginning to feel that Wang-jae’s death was more and more unlikely, Jeong decides to start his own investigation into what really happened and, before you know it, he has sparked off a chain of events that culminate in him being jumped by a large collection of some of the most famous movie gangs in history. Luckily he is saved from a certain pummelling by his old friend Ryoo (played by director Seung-wan himself) and together they hunt for Wang-jae’s true killer and to their shock discover that the truth is closer to home than they initially believed.
Now so far I’m sure you’re thinking this all sounds very predictable and for the most part it is. It’s not the first time we’ve had a story about childhood friends who went their separate ways and chose very different paths, but what does lift The City of Violence above it’s contemporaries is the great chemistry between this movie’s two leads. Their charisma as actors and their talent both on and off the screen is quite obvious, which makes both the story telling side of this movie and the exceptional martial arts sequences look easy, which I’m sure was not the case. The story goes that the Seoul Action School – Korea’s sole company dedicated to training and providing stunt coordinators – co-produced the film and threw all its students in to the mix while filming, which explains the extremely tight choreography in the stand out fight sequences, mainly the outrageous gang fight, the police station scrimmage in the middle of the film and the final video game style tea house punch-fest. Yes, every good martial arts movie has bosses that stand around in the background doing nothing until the big paste ending and The City of Violence is no different, this time they even get smart matching white outfits. But when they do finally strike that kung fu pose and go spinning in to action it’s actually worth the wait, which is something of a relief!
As most of the press blurb will tell you, there are also an incredible number of classic movie references, ranging from the old school likes of The Warriors (no, not Bronx Warriors, although it was close) and The Untouchables to recent winners like Kill Bill and Kung-Fu Hustle. It’s great fun keeping your eyes peeled for them as most of them are pretty easy to spot and really they’re just another reason to recommend The City of Violence. And since this flick is actually getting a cinema release and not just being pushed straight to DVD like most of its ilk is, that can only be a good thing.
Versions Readily available on Asian import DVD already, but only with Pigeon English subs.