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New action flicks highlight unfair social system

2006/01/12 Source

Although their official subjects are different, the action flicks "Running Wild" (Yasu) and Holiday share many cinematic elements, some of which may intrigue Korean moviegoers yearning for a strong dose of refreshing action sequences.

"Running Wild", directed by Kim Seong-soo, and Holiday by Yang Yoon-ho feature the country's top actors as the main characters. For the former, Kwon Sang-woo takes the role of a tough, short-tempered cop, while for the latter Lee Sung-jae plays a thoughtful inmate who masterminds a high-profile kidnapping scheme.

Both characters are surprisingly similar. Kwon's Jang Do-young is a street-smart cop who knows how to fight and knows little about how to follow the rules. He frequently uses four-letter words and never stops to think about the consequences of his actions. Lee's Ji Kang-heon is rather reserved, yet has bursts of anger when he cannot control his temper. He's also vicious when he is intent on attacking his enemy.

Both are, in other words, like wild beasts that are hard to control. The beastly images are intensified when their younger brothers die, touching off additional anger and a sense of the unfairness of their situation.

In "Running Wild", the cop's younger brother served a prison term during which he came to know a big boss, who later emerges as the paragon of evil, and a character who directly squares off with Jang Do-young. The brother got away with a piece of evidence that could put the boss back in prison, but he was brutally killed by his minions on the street because of the very evidence.

In Holiday, Ji Kang-heon is based on a real hostage-taking incident in October 1988. But the story of his younger brother is fictional (largely because the filmmakers could not get detailed documents about the real Ji Kang-hyeon from the prosecution).

The film shows how brutally the government officials and hired mobsters destroyed a shanty town in the name of building up new apartment complexes. In the process, Ji's younger brother is shot to death by a cop named Kim An-seok, played by Choi Min-soo, known for his overwhelming and often extreme "charisma".

Both films revolve around a sort of revenge. Detective Jang wants to get even with the mafia boss who killed his younger brother, and Ji also wants to kill the evil-spirited cop Kim.

A factor that also interconnects the two films is the sheer power of the unjust authorities, be it political or social. In "Running Wild", Detective Jang teams up with a prosecutor, played by Yoo Ji-tae, in order to catch the elusive boss. But their earnest attempts confront obstacles. Ironically, the duo falls into a trap set up by the boss, who knows how to pull political strings and take advantage of legal loopholes. The social justice system, in short, has collapsed in the eyes of Jang.

A similar thing is also taking place in Holiday. Ji is not a bad person at heart, though he indeed steals money and hits an innocent citizen. The real bad guy, or corrupt system, as the movie suggests, is the notorious criminal act, a sort of three-strike-out system that puts petty pickpockets or other poor people to prison for decades. The act, set up during the military dictatorship era, was finally appealed last June, while the movie was being made.

Ji can't find anyone who believes that he is innocence. What he gets, unfortunately, is bad luck: the cruel cop Kim An-seok is appointed as a governor of the very prison where Ji is serving his term.

The newly appointed prison chief frequently tortures Ji, but there's nothing Ji can do about it. But there is one thing he can do: plot a scheme to escape with the other inmates. However, even the plan is not that smart. Ji's main reason for breaking out of the prison is to speak about the injustice, but nobody is interested about the claims by the criminal and hostage-taker.

Acting-wise, Kwon Sang-woo has gone out of his way to play the tough cop and risk many injuries. His funny hairstyle and dark skin is somewhat over-the-top, but his earnest performance deserve credit. Yoo Ji-tae, who is widely known for a role in Park Chan-wook's "Old boy" also shines - only when he postures as a cool-looking prosecutor.

Lee Sung-jae's performance as the notorious criminal is impressive, though he's too handsome and muscular to pass for the character. Choi Min-soo, one of Korea's most well-known "tough guys", acts too tough too often, and his exaggerated voice is simply annoying, undermining the film's realism.

In fairness, the two movies create strong impacts on the screen thanks to the peculiar storylines and high-profile actors. But excessively violent and gory images in both films may be unpleasant, making some viewers turn and twitch in their seats. Though the way the two films present their arguments is didactic and condescending, their stylish ending scenes may provide some thought-provoking ideas.

By Yang Sung-jin

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