Saturday, February 07, 2009

No Mercy for the Rude

So, I've totally waited until now to start going through my Fantasia screeners because it's midway between Fantasia '08 and Fantasia '09.

Speaking of Fantasia, they've put something on their site stating that the festival will be running 16 July 2009 - 3 August 2009. On the one hand, it means I won't miss the Fourth this year, although if I do the whole thing this year, I'll have to unload a pair of Sox tickets (yeah, that'll be tough) and if I sublet an apartment again, it has to span the two months (again, rough).

Yeui-Eomneun Geotdeul (No Mercy for the Rude)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2009 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Screener DVD)

No Mercy for the Rude isn't exactly the movie its English-language title would imply. The name implies some sort of satire or that the rudeness is important, and that's not really where this movie's going. It's a much more conventional quirky hitman story, if that's not an oxymoron.

The hitman (Sin Ha-kyun), referred to only as "Killa", is a mute, saving up money for an operation to repair his abnormally short tongue. As such, he's something of a loner, his closest friend another assassin who used to be a ballet dancer (Killa dreams of being a bullfighter). That's about to change - a woman (Yun Ji-hye) who hangs around the same bar as he does has attached herself to him, and when he spots a homeless kid (Kang San) on the way back from a job, he takes the boy in. He's only a few jobs away from being able to pay for his surgery, but one botched job and a number of coincidences threaten to make things very difficult.

So, again, not a black comedy about killing rude or unpleasant people. In fact, the bit about only killing rude people is kind of throw-away, and not really involved in the plot at all until the last act, and not so much then (although, to be fair, "rude" may not be a perfect translation from Korean, either linguistically or culturally). Catchy title, though. That said, part of what makes No Mercy a fairly enjoyable example of the "not-so-bad hitman" genre is that it does have a nifty sense of humor. Killa may not be able to speak, but his narration has a nicely wry and sarcastic edge to it, and is cleverly self-referential in the beginning (and thankfully stops being so long before we'd get sick of it). The scenes with the hitmen are generally quite amusing: They're not cool, but they're not inept, and the comical interactions between them work. There's occasional meanness to the humor, but not to the extent it stops being funny. The flashback scenes are charming, too.

Those amusing bits do have a bit of an uphill battle against the main storylines, which aren't so much bad as they are either generic or nasty. Yun and Kang are good enough as the woman and kid who enter Killa's life, lively characters who earn their keep, but the relationships between the trio are kind of paint-by-numbers. The characters are each interesting, but they play familiar "guy meets girl/kid who like him no matter how he tries to push them away" beats. Writer/director Park Cheol-hie actually makes good use of coincidence to potentially kick story off early on, but piles too many other bits of happenstance on as the film moves to its conclusion, including having two storylines involving a mobster with a truly unpleasant sexual history intersect. Park also gets kind of sloppy toward the end, with Kang Sun's kid appearing and disappearing as is convenient.

The cast does what they can. Sin Ha-kyun has a nice split performance as Killa, hitting a good balance between the comic and the serious in his mute on-screen performance and emoting well enough without going over the top for his narration to be appreciated even through subtitles. Yun Ji-hie is good and dry in her funny scenes, although a bit overwrought in her dramatic ones. Kang San is a good kid actor, and the various assassins and gangsters are good, too.

No Mercy for the Rude is a nice-looking movie, and has plenty of little bits that make it memorable. It's also got a number of bits that are ordinary and others that are just too much. The good bits outnumber the bad ones, although they're not quite enough to live up to the promise of the title.

Also at HBS.

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