Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Kundo—Age of the Rampant: the Butcher vs. the Bastard
the peasants won’t take to their pitchforks, the Chusul Clan will do it for
them. They are sort of like Robin Hood and his men, but they aren’t very merry.
The Chusul outlaws definitely believe in stealing from the rich. That would be
Jo Yoon, a Naju lord’s sociopathic illegitimate son. It is the have-not’s
versus the man who has everything except a proper name in Yoon Jong-bin’s smash
hit Kundo: Age of the Rampant (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
was sort of the Chusuls’ fault that the death of Lord Jo Won-suk’s son opened
up a void to be filled by his new presumptive heir, Jo Yoon. Still, at the
time, it was a highly satisfying mission for Dae-ho, the Chusul captain.
Indirectly, it also brings Dolmuchi into the picture. The lowly clever-wielding
butcher is hired by Jo Yoon to murder his half-brother’s pregnant widow.
However, Dolmuchi has an outbreak of conscience at the last moment.
disappointed, Jo Yoon has the poor butcher’s family murdered, but Dolmuchi is
saved at the last moment by his future Chusul comrades. Despite the wise spiritual
counsel of Ddaeng-choo, “the Vicious Monk,” Dolmuchi is consumed with a desire
for revenge. However, Jo Yoon’s almost superhuman martial arts were nearly the
death of him the last time they faced off. Frankly, the Naju usurper might be
too powerful for Dolmuchi’s adopted clan, but when he really starts to squeeze
the peasantry, Dae-ho resolves to act.
obvious class warfare themes drive Kundo like
the runaway bus in Speed, but it
never loses sight of the action. In fact, there are numerous spaghetti western
hat-tips, including a big noisy one to the original Django, which is awesome. There is also the Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai/Seven Warriors dynamic of the
rag-tag Chusul action team coming together, including the hulking Chun-bo, Lee
Tae-ki, a former aristocratic turned outlaw, and Ma-hyang, the
strictly-business archer they both carry a torch for.
seems like the creepiest villains in Korean cinema are often distinctly
androgynous—and Jo Yoon is no exception. Freshly discharged from his mandatory
military service, Gang Dong-won’s performance has the grace and menace of a psychotic
ballet dancer. He is flamboyantly cruel, but screenwriter Jeon Cheol-hong takes
pains to establish the linkage to his miserable childhood.
Gang chews the scenery quite effectively as the clammy Jo Yoon. Conversely, Ha
Jung-woo practically blows smoke out his ears as the massively intense
Dolmuchi. Lee Sung-min and Yoon Ji-hye are both steely cool as Dae-ho and
Ma-hyang, respectively, while former MMA trainer Ma Dong-seok (a.k.a. Don Lee)
is reliably energizing as the Friar Tuck-ish Chun-bo. However, veteran
character actor Lee Kyoung-young (practically unrecognizable without his
glasses) nearly steals the show as the hardcore but deeply compassionate
priest. Unfortunately, viewers who blink might miss Korean indie star Kim
Kkobbi fleetingly appearing as Jo Yoon’s fugitive half-sister-in-law.
literally tells us serfs: “United you are
people, divided you are thieves.” Fortunately, it then proceeds to kill a bunch
of extras. Frankly, the rhetoric might sound more DPRK than ROK, but Jo Yoon’s
tyranny just as easily validates Lord Acton as it does Leon Trotsky. More
importantly, the action sequences are pretty spectacular. Dolmuchi even fights
like a butcher, which is quite cinematic. Recommended for those who enjoy epic,
morally black-and-white, two hour-plus epic historical conflagrations, Kundo: Age of the Rampant opens this
Friday (8/29) in New York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Korean Cinema, Martial arts cinema