"The Showdown" paves the way for a new style of epic films, with the heart of the action set in a deserted pub rather than on an open field. The thrill of three men struggling in acute tension is maximized despite the limitation of the space.
The stylish fights take place in an abandoned bar in Manchuria during the war between Joseon (1392-1910) and Qing China (1644-1912). Three soldiers, Heon-myeong (Park Hee-soon), Do-yeong (Jin Goo) and Du-su (Ko Chang-seok), are in the same unit, fighting the Qing army. After being defeated in a battle in a snow-covered forest, they find themselves isolated and become enemies. They all have reasons to kill each other.
"The Showdown" chose to highlight the characters' desperate struggles rather than the historical aspect of the epic. The fight scenes are not exaggerated or beautified, inciting dynamism and suspense.
The movie is like an epic version of "Cube" (1999), since the backdrop is limited to a pub in ruins - all grudges and anger get tangled there. The confrontation of a trio, instead of just good and evil, adds more suspense.
The flashbacks of Heon-myeong and Do-yeong add color to the tense yet monotonous fight scenes. The movie goes back and forth between the extreme situation of the present and the past, showing why Do-yeong's family collapsed, why Heon-myeong is so power-thirsty and why Du-su is desperate to survive.
The three actors fill the big screen with enthusiastic performances. Park, the detective of the 2007 "Seven Days", said "The Showdown" is a new kind of epic, different from other historical movies. "The set was highly charged as three men were in conflict in a limited area. We tried to keep in tune with each other", he said at a press conference last week.
Jin, the youngest among the three, said it was physically gruelling, but he was happy filming the movie. "Though we fought hard in the movie, we cared for one another with a sense of loyalty", Jin said.
Go, who played a Vietnamese gang boss in the 2010 movie "Blood Brothers", shows off his comedic talents. Go's actual wife and daughter appear in the movie as Du-su's family, and Go said it helped him.
The budget for "The Showdown" was 2 billion won ($1.8 million), which is relatively low for an epic film. "The movie is a result of various ideas to cut down production costs in a limited space", the director said. "However, we are sure that the quality of our movie is worth more than 3 billion won".
Jin revealed the snow in the movie was actually a mixture of salt and white sand. "As the salt melted due to the lighting, it was absorbed through our skin and we got dehydrated", he said.
The director, Park, asked the viewers to read between the scenes to fully understand the fierce confrontation of the three men. "This movie is one of blank space and the audience can fill it as they watch it", he said.
Now in local theaters. Distributed by Sidus FNH.
Two stars out of four.
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