Korean Movie Review – The City of Violence (짝패)

After watching the excellent “New World” (2013), I came to the realization that I might have to reeducate myself on the Korean gangster genre. In the last two years, Korea has produced some classics, so I decided to go back and take a look at some of the best-reviewed gangster films of the last decade. One that’s consistently ranked near the top is Ryu Seung-wan’s “The City of Violence” (2006).

When the film opens, we meet Wang-jae, a reformed gangster who runs a bar in Onsung. After getting into a confrontation with a group of young thugs, Wang-jae is overpowered and killed. Tae-su (Jeong Du-hong), a friend of Wang-jae’s who is now a police detective in Seoul, returns to his hometown to grieve with his once-inseparable group of childhood friends. As Tae-su investigates deeper into his old comrade’s death, he starts to realize that Wang-jae’s murder doesn’t make any sense — something isn’t quite right in his old town.

Initially, “The City of Violence” confused me, as I couldn’t quite work out if the film was intentionally trying to be funny. It starts off naturally enough, but transforms into a parody of the 1979 film “The Warriors” as Tae-su fights off more than 200 people from gangs such as the Capoeira BMX bandits and the face-painted baseball players. But once I got to the film’s finale, it all became clear; “The City of Violence” is an exploitation movie wrapped up as a hard-boiled Korean crime drama.

Take, for instance, the scenes in which Tae-su walks around punching bad guys through doors, accompanied by a Shaft-approved soundtrack. Or the film’s violent finale, which initially plays out like “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), but ends up more like “Kill Bill” (2003-04), which itself is an homage to several types of exploitation films. Once I realized all this, I instantly watched the film again. It might not be totally original, but it sure is a lot of fun.

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One Comment on “Korean Movie Review – The City of Violence (짝패)”

  1. September 6, 2014 at 3:30 am #

    This was a very odd film. It seemed to flit between genres almost at random without regard for plot or pacing. As much as I admire the current Korean ethos of “use whatever conventions you can, regardless of preconceptions, as long as it serves the story”, I think this one is an example of how badly that concept can turn against you if it’s used without any kind of focus. This movie doesn’t seem to have any real idea of what it wants to be.

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