Ethnic Korean-Japanese filmmaker Choi Yang-il
(Yoichi Sai) does not pull any punches when he describes raw human instinct. A case in point is "Blood and Bones" starring Takeshi Kitano. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel "Chi to Hone" by Korean-Japanese author Yang Seok-il, the award-winning film epitomizes what "relentlessly grim and brutal" violence really means.
"Blood and Bones" follows a straightforward formula (Decade X: Kitano beats people up. Decade Y: Kitano is still beating people up). Choi's latest film "Soo" - and his formal debut work for the Korean cinema industry - opts for a simpler formula: Tae-su (Ji Jin-hee
) wipes out his enemies.
"Soo" has all the trappings of a Korean film. Ji Jin-hee
plays the central character, or characters, given that he plays twin brothers Tae-su and Tae-jin, and the film is set firmly in Korea. The language is Korean, and there is no sign of a Japanese connection whatsoever. All of this is true when the surface of the film is considered. But deep inside, it's a Japanese revenge film that relies heavily on the fatal edge of daggers, knives and swords. At its core, this is a Choi Yang-il
movie that defies all the conventions of today's mainstream Korean filmmaking.
Korean filmmakers are fully aware of the so-called "yuck factor". If the dominant feeling in a movie is perceived as gross or yucky due to the amount of violence, it tends to perform poorly at the box office. Conventional wisdom, therefore, is to seamlessly coordinate violence and style so that audiences pay more attention to what is cool, instead of the blood-letting, on the silver screen. For director Choi, that's grossly inappropriate. He does not want to do some circumlocution in describing the underlying human instinct to survive, or a willingness to kill others for one's own survival.
In "Soo", Tae-su demonstrates what it means to survive and kill. After years of forced separation, he meets with his long-lost twin brother Tae-jin, only to witness his murder. What the assassin and his boss overlook is that the victim's twin brother is a famous hit man.
The story traces back to a distant past when the two twin brothers were barely surviving on the street together. Tae-su stole some cash from a scoundrel at a fish market, but it was his twin brother Tae-jin who got caught and had his chin slashed by a knife in punishment for a crime he didn't commit.
The incident left The Twins
separated for decades, with Tae-jin's fate controlled by the brutal gangster leader (Moon Seong-geun
). Tae-su, meanwhile, suffered from the traumatic guilt of not being able to rescue his one and only remaining family member from the drug-dealing underworld.
The sense of helplessness, guilt and anger hits its peak when Tae-su sees his twin brother brutally victimized again during their first long-awaited meeting after decades apart. Determined to exact his revenge, Tae-su disguises himself as his twin brother, who was a policeman, and tracks down the mobsters and their leader.
Director Choi spares no blood in fighting scenes that describe the excruciatingly violent course of action that Tae-su undertakes to settle old and new scores with the hoodlums.
Tae-su knows everything about punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting and killing. The most extreme violence involves Tae-su's confrontation with his enemies on his way to the very heart of the mobster's headquarters. When he loses his weapons and has only his bare hands to fight, Tae-su plunges his fingers into an enemy's eye and gouges it out without any hesitation. The scene is messy: screams howl and blood splatters all over the place, with those who are wounded writhing in pain.
The title of the film, "Soo" (meaning 'life' in Korean), is related to the last character of Tae-su's name. Considering the pervasive image of water, "Soo" (whose Korean sound also means 'water') is also concerned about the very essence of life.
In some stylistic scenes, director Choi seems to suggest that water cleans not only blood but also the soul - a tormented soul that is trapped in a cycle of guilt and violence. Water's purifying image clearly offers a few droplets of hope; however, Tae-su's animalistic instinct for survival at the expense of other lives points to a disturbingly dark side of what life means for a vengeful spirit.
By Yang Sung-jin