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The City Of Violence
cast: Kil-Kang Ahn, Seok-yong Jeong, Doo-hong Jung, Seung-wan Ryoo, and Beom-su Lee

director: Seung-wan Ryoo

90 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
Premier Asia DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Seoul detective Tae-su (Doo-hong Jung) is reunited with some old friends from his childhood when he returns to his hometown for the funeral of Wang-jae (Kil-Kang Ahn), a reformed crook, apparently murdered by a teenage street-gang. While Tae-su investigates the crime scene, local mobster Pil-ho (Beom-su Lee, a performance bordering on high camp) campaigns to develop residential land for a casino project, but he soon finds that dealing with ruthless out-of-town organised crime bosses, and outgrowing the bitter memories of being just a hanger-on during his youth, is not easy. Meanwhile, Tae-su and his volatile buddy Seok-hwan (played by the director, Seung-wan Ryoo) walk tall and carry big sticks for their attack on the grand finale's gathering organised by wannabe 'made-man' Pil-ho, who entertains his thoroughly disreputable allies at a heavily-guarded banquet.

A decidedly postmodern take on urban gangster thrillers, The City Of Violence (aka: Jjakpae), is cannily reminiscent of the most outré wild western myths, pitting loner heroes against impossible odds, especially in the inevitable showdown with a line-up of fighters (here, Korean martial artists replace cowboy gunslingers) in the employ of wily or cowardly capos. The DVD sleeve blurb lists Tarantino's Kill Bill, Scorsese's Goodfellas, and Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle as important influences upon this film but, due to the storyline's nostalgic theme and the presence of numerous trendily attired teen hoodlums, comparisons with the unique action style of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow films, and Walter Hill's The Warriors (1978), are certainly more accurate.

Somewhat uneven in its mixing of low-key soap opera and spectacular action, what it lacks in genuine originality or cinematic innovation this film makes up for with plenty of blood-letting, and a couple of absurdly comic sequences depicting confrontations between our vaguely heroic adult protagonists and teeming hordes of antagonistic kids. If you enjoyed any of the movies cited above, this should be to your liking. As with the director's superhero fantasy, Arahan (2004), this has moments where all elements come together perfectly so the whole is briefly more than the sum of its parts. However, there are contrasting mistakes of awkwardness and dramatic ineptitude, constituting serious defects and lapses of aesthetic judgement that need to be overlooked if viewers expect to derive much entertainment from the film's 90-minute running time.

This two-disc DVD release from Contender has a standard batch of extras including a making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes footage, main cast interviews in Masters Of Mayhem, a look at kung fu choreography in The Rules Of Engagement, plus The Seoul Action School, commentaries, deleted scenes, and High School Days offering more about the morally confused main characters' pasts.

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