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'Soo': Revenge, Redemption

2007/03/22 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

It's bloody and brutal, and harrowingly so. Japanese-born Korean director Choi Yang-il (Yoichi Sai) brings the Korean audience a hardboiled vengeance film with a slightly different flavor.

When you think of blood-splattered retaliation, Park Chan-wook's vengeance trilogy or Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" series may come to mind. But imagine such a film stripped of fancy cinematographic techniques and devoid of stylishly choreographed action sequences. Every gesture and grimace is meticulously planned, according to the director. But Choi keeps the camera at a certain distance to portray the no-cut skirmishes. The product is heightened realism, and you believe in the brutal violence and the raw human instinct for survival.

Tae-su (Ji Jin-hee) is a notorious hit man called Soo, who waits 19 years to finally reunite with his long-lost twin brother Tae-jin _ only to watch him get shot in front of his very eyes. Revenge becomes Soo's sole reason for breathing, as he single-handedly sets out to hunt down his brother's murderer.

Here, the movie slips into major traps of common plot elements: identical twins the striking opposite of each other _ one good, the other bad _ and the woman that falls in love with both of them.

If you're craving something purely "hardboiled", think again. There is a unique combination of raw and primitive crudeness and unexpected tenderness to the movie, however. Knives take the place of guns, the usual choice of weapon in contemporary action films, and Soo embodies all the animalistic human instinct for survival and safety. In a desperate struggle to stay alive, Soo unhesitatingly scoops out an enemy's eyeballs with his bare hands.

But Soo degenerates from a cool-headed and merciless professional killer into a helpless, guilt-ridden brother. Tae-su sports a sharp dagger to slash dozens of lives, but it ceases to be a weapon when he falls asleep with it in his dead brother's bed. It is a material extension of a vengeful yet shattered and lonely soul

There are in fact moments when you forget the protagonist is a callous and an unfeeling killer. Soo is quiet and reserved when not on duty, and is obedient in front of his boss, a fatherly figure. Soo draws sympathy from viewers as he embraces his dead brother's body _ it's chilling as you see two identical faces, one lifeless and the other helpless. Monologues addressed to Tae-jin throughout the movie mark Tae-su's tragic humaneness. There is also a comically surreal dimension to his undying persistence. Attacked by bullets, clubs, swords and hatchets, he manages to keep surviving. You stop grimacing at the insensitive brutality past a certain point.

Other characters in "Soo", however, stop short of being more than mere caricatures: the mobster (Moon Sung-geun), for example, embodies all the stereotypes of the Bad Guy, with his sly face, terrible taste in fashion and irritating habit of cracking his neck. He is also the sole source of all evil in the story, being responsible not only for the death of Tae-jin but for The Twins' initial separation as well. Some of the dialogues are ridiculously 1980s.

Yet, "Soo" remains a memorable film. In Korean, "soo" means water, the very essence of life. Throughout the film Soo seeks to free his brother from "han" or spiteful grudge, as well as his own soul from staggering guilt. Even the Bad Guy wishes to spare his father the fires of hell. Choi's lasting imagery of water washing away blood suggests the pervasive human instinct to survive and the desire to purge oneself of one's impurities.

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