Seven South Korean Crime/Revenge Dramas in Seven Days (March Update)

There’s a line of dialogue from A Bittersweet Life (original title: Dalkomhan insaeng), another amazing crime drama from South Korea’s Jee-Wong Kim, the writer/director also responsible for I Saw the Devil and what many agree is the deeply frightening, yet beautifully shot South Korean horror films ever created, A Tale of Two Sisters). The line is repeated more than once in the film:

You can do a hundred things right, but it takes only one mistake to destroy everything.

Mr. Kang’s character from A Bittersweet Life makes an excellent point here. If I needed to come up with a quote that captures the mood and message of many South Korean crime thrillers (one that didn’t contain the word fuck or any variations thereof), that one would definitely be my go-to line. Actually, it could be used for more traditional South Korean entries in the horror genre as well.*

OK, where were we? Ah yes. So, previously on  “Horror Boom Blogger Attempts Seven South Korean Crime/Revenge Dramas in Seven Months”:  I first introduced the idea, then speedily discovered that I could quite possibly be in just a teensy bit over my head, at least in terms of turnaround time. Christ, at the speed I’m writing about these films, it’s going to turn into “Seven South Korean Crime/Revenge Dramas in Seven Months” if this pace keeps up. If I really apply myself, I could possibly do it in seven weeks.  My birthday showed up between then and now, along with some great birthday gifts from my husband. So of the seven movies I chose on my original bullet list, I now own:

  • Chaser (Original South Korean title: Chugyeogja)
  • The Man from Nowhere (on Blu Ray no less)
  • Memories of Murder

There were things that took place in Chaser I either forgot about, or blocked out/compartmentalized (probably a mix of both) because the movie as I recalled it was very, very intense. Since then, I’ve been trying to hunt down the director’s second film, The Yellow Sea; he has several of the actors from Chaser cast in major roles, and the plot sounds really promising.** I keep reading variations on the same review: “It’s not Chaser (but then again, nothing is), however, don’t let that stop you. It’s an excellent sophomore effort and a must-see”.

No special features on Chaser,  unfortunately (I would have killed for loved a commentary track), but the movie is more than enough to engage and enthrall you. I also did some research on the movie’s claim that it was based on a true case in South Korea. Disturbingly, it IS based on an actual case. Possibly more disturbing are the facts that 1. The pimp*** whose escorts were being slaughtered alerted the police as soon as he starting putting together what had happened, but no-one seemed to care enough to look into it 2. the killer served no time, though he confessed and 3. the body count was nearly 25 poor young women; in the film I doubt it is even ten. When I do the full write-up,  I’ll post a really interesting link to a (translated into English) in-depth interview with the pimp, who ended up writing a book about the case.

Now that I think of it, that’d make an appropriate alternate tagline for more or less all the seven movies listed. Chaser: Fuck, I Don’t Know.

Another disturbing bit of information I discovered was that the movie rights were bought by a major US studio, and Leonardo DiCaprio was attached to star. Noooooooooo!  The project has since been all but abandoned, thank God. They could easily just re-release the movie in its original form, and even if it was a limited release import (which was the case with Thirst, I Saw the Devil, and The Host). I guess chances of that happening are slim, but it’s just uncalled for to re-make. Of the many US remakes of Asian horror, I have seen exactly two that did justice to the original films: The Ring and The Grudge. However, since the Grudge/Ju-On was remade in Japan, with the original writer and director (Takashi Shimizu). Ghost House Productions wisely gave Shimizu-san free rein to use the same crew, sets, and scenes–and only recast a few of the leads as Americans (who were re-written as travellers from the US to Japan in a way that was completely plausible and kept all the original actors otherwise)– I’m not even sure if it counts as a remake. Yes, it was all shot on location in Japan, and best of all, he kept the original Kayako, and her family.

OK, I’ll save any more gushing about the Ju-On series for a special section or a separate Ju-on fan site. Also, we’re on South Korean horror/thrillers– and not one the South Korea OR Thailand imports have been remade in a way that satisfies American horror fans, let alone those who saw and loved the original years before the stupid fucking American-Remake trend started.

So, I own three of them now, plan to pick up The Unjust and No Mercy if I find them for a decent price. Though I’ve seen it multiple times (probably more than was healthy) I’ll grab up I Saw the Devil on Blu Ray if I can as well. I’d buy Bedevilled in a heartbeat, but I can’t even find a copy on eBay, let alone a retail site. Hell, I’ll be lucky if Scarecrow Video has it. I watched it (once) on YouTube.

Also new –a trailer for Bedevilled, and I also added to the snippets of cool dialogue included in my original post. OK, OK, A Bittersweet Life wasn’t one of the seven on the list (it almost made it, and still may get swapped out with Memories of Murder; if so, don’t worry, I have a boatload of interesting things to discuss about the sheer brilliance of that gem), but I overlooked that technicality due to… well, the quote itself, and the attitude often displayed by both of the characters in SK movies in the crime genre.

A Bittersweet Life

Mu-sung: Apologize, then nothing will happen. “I… was… wrong.” Three little words. If you say those three words, nothing horrible will happen. “I… was… wrong.” Just three words.
Sun-woo: Fuck… off… asshole.

the Man from Nowhere

Tae-Sik Cha: You live only for tomorrow.
Man-seok: What?
Tae-Sik Cha: The ones that live for tomorrow, get fucked by the ones living for today.
Man-seok: What are you babbling about?
Tae-Sik Cha: I only live for today. I’ll show you just how fucked up that can be.

I Saw the Devil

Kim Soo-hyeon: I will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That’s a real revenge. A real complete revenge.

For some reason, one of my absolute favorite lines from Memories of Murder:

Detective Park Doo-Man: Fuck, I don’t know.

That’d make an appropriate alternate tagline for nearly all these movies. No Mercy: Fuck, I Don’t Know.

Here’s that perfectly executed (ha) trailer for Bedevilled. They keep it simple and give just the right amount of information to reel you in, but not so much that you’ll see what’s coming when you actually watch the film. I love the dissolve to the island at 1.15.

More updates as they come in! I do hope to get off my behind soon to dive into writing about what I, and many others, consider several South Korean masterpieces of dark cinema.


*As I wrote this, I also realized that in fact, the quote is relevant to many J-horror and Thai Horror movies too. Shit, in some of those–especially J-Horror. In that case, the mistake could just be noticing something just the slightest bit unusual, or innocently showing up somewhere in your daily routine… but barring disaster, I’ll have plenty of time to devote to J-Horror later.
**from the American Press kit for The Yellow Sea (original title Hwanghae): The film is the story of a cab driver in Yanji City, a region between North Korea, China and Russia. His wife goes to Korea to earn money, but six months pass without hearing from her. He plays Mah-jong to make some extra cash, but this only makes his life worse. Then he meets a hitman who proposes to turn his life around by repaying his debt and reuniting with his wife, just for one hit.  (Sold!)
***I don’t yet have a definitive answer, but I’m pretty sure pimping and quite possibly actual prostitution is legal in parts of South Korea. No-one seems to ever worry about getting busted by the cops (perhaps because in these movies, at least, that is SO the least of their problems).