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Movie 'Die Bad' exceeds expectations

2004/07/15 Source

If you're one of the legions of disappointed fans who waited more than five minutes to catch the highly anticipated "Kill Bill Vol. 2" (in what must have been the shortest screening run of any film in the history of Korean cinema), then a hidden gem of Korean cinema, "Die Bad" (2000), may help to ease the pain.

Touted by the local film critics as the "Quentin Tarantino of Korea", director Ryoo Seung-wan ("No Blood No Tears") - who is better known for his acting roles in "Oasis" and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" - exceeds all expectations in this low-budget (65 million won ~ US$65,000) action thriller feature film.

A consummate storyteller, Ryoo has blended four short films tother to create a seamless narrative that examines the lives of its characters from different perspectives. With two of his critically acclaimed earlier short film efforts, "Rumble" (1998) and "Modern Man" (1999) making up the bulk of the film's story, "Nightmare" (a documentary) and "Die Bad" (a black and white gangster film) fill in the blanks.

Opening with a bloody all-in-brawl at a local pool hall between a group of students, "Die Bad" is a gritty tale of consequences and destiny; poignantly driven home as we watch Sung-bin (Ryoo Seung-beom) try to defuse a situation provoked by Suk-hwan (Ryoo Seung-wan) only to end up accidentally killing another boy.

Released from prison after seven years, Sung-bin hopes to begin a new life but soon realizes that he cannot leave the past behind, as he is constantly plagued by ghostly visions of the slain student. Unemployed and treated like a pariah by family and friends, fate steers Sung-bin toward the life of a gangster where he crosses paths with Suk-hwan (now a police officer), resulting in a violent climax laden with irony.

Unlike slickly choreographed fight scenes in bigger budget films, the violence in "Die Bad" is not for the fainthearted. Ryoo serves up his brand of brutalism au naturel, in a realistic manner that is distinctly unpleasant to watch. Kicking, punching, eye gouging, hair pulling, air swings and ungraceful miss hits are the order of the day here.

Employing a variety of different camera techniques to tell his story, Ryoo successfully conveys the tragic hopelessness of his characters as their lives unfold in the far less salubrious parts of Seoul. Barren schoolyards, dark side alleys, grimy pool halls and trash-strewn parking lots combine to create the perfect setting for the director's dark vision of an impoverished generation with severely limited choices.

"Die Bad" offers a fresh take on the tired gangster film genre, which with its eye-catching visuals, top-shelf acting performances and authentic indie film atmosphere will keep you watching until the very end.

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