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Bad Guy - Tartan Asia Extreme UK Print E-mail
User Rating: / 6
Written by Ed Fir   
Friday, 11 January 2008

AKA: Nabbeun namja

Directed by: Kim Ki-Duk
Written by: Kim Ki-Duk
Produced by: Seung-jae Lee
Cinematography by: Cheol-hyeon Hwang
Editing by: Seong-won Hang
Cast: Jae-hyeon Jo, Won Seo, Yun-tae Kim, Duek-mun Choi, Yoon-young Choi, Yoo-jin Shin, Jung-young Kim
Year: 2001
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean (English Subtitles)
Color: Color
Runtime: 100 Minutes

Video: PAL R0
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS Digital Surround
Distributor: Tartan Video UK

It’s probably not a good idea to start a review by writing that I don’t know what to make of the film in question.  But then, I really should tell it as I see it, “Bad Guy” is a film that confounds on many levels, and while it would be easy to rally against the men in this film, and more to the point the portrayal of women, that just seems too obvious to carry much debate or to be truly valid.

Simply covering the plot of this film should be enough to explain where some of the dilemmas occur.  A gangster from a red light district in Korea is walking in the street one day when a young college student catches his eye.  Unable to control his desire, and despite the girl being with her boyfriend, he walks up and forcibly kisses her.  For obvious reasons she’s none too happy about this, but she is now forever on his mind.

So what would a gangster with a harem of whores do to get his woman and keep her under his care?  Why, turn her into a prostitute of course.  So he puts a plan into action, and before long she’s signed a loan deal with a shark that will inevitably lead to someone else owning her body. 

Once she’s a whore, the gangster watches her all day long, and uses a one-way mirror to view as she has sex with clients.  If this is not shocking enough, there’s an additional element that develops over the runtime – she ends up liking having sex with strangers and being watched.  In fact, the girl falls in love with our gangster, and when he’s arrested later in the film, she feels real grief, and even refuses the opportunity to escape back to the normal world.

Bad Guy” turns the modern western view of women on its head.  It comes off as somewhat fantastical, and I can hear American audiences dismissing it as rather silly because it’s so unbelievable.  However, we should take into account this is not a film set in the US, and that views on women and fidelity in Korea are different than those in many “civilized” countries.  Once marked, this woman has few options, which might – I say might – account for some of the things we see.  Apart from that, this is a work of fiction, so if the film takes liberties, what’s wrong with that?

The film was directed by Kim Ki-Duk.  This is my third foray into his cinematic world.  First time around I was enthralled by “The Isle”, second time disappointed by “Real Fiction”.  So it was with some trepidation that I approached the work of this young, strange filmmaker.  Thankfully, I can report “Bad Guy” is an extraordinary film – both in the way the story unfolds, and how well it is shot and imagined.  Here we have Ki-Duk using color like never before, the glaring tones of the whores and bright summer flowers of Korea vibrant and stunning.

Despite the more obvious choice, the entire tone of the film is one of quiet meditation.  Even during patches of violence (there a lot of punching and face slapping in the movie, imagine my surprise while watching the extras to find the Director had demanded that all slaps be performed for real), there is an underlying calmness.  This is further enhanced by the brave decision to have the male lead practically mute.  In fact, during the 100 minutes or so this film runs, he utters no more than four lines.  For the rest of the running time he must rely on facial expressions, menacing movement, and his aura as an actor.  Even when he does speak, all we hear are the strained tones of a Mike Tyson impersonator (note the central character bears a scar across his throat from an earlier assault that probably explains this). Amazingly, given the performers here are relative unknowns, this works. 

So what are the themes of this film?  Well, you have to have an open mind that doesn’t mind challenging against convention.  For instance, the gangster is a good guy, protecting his whores from other invading gangsters, and caring – if from a distance – for the girl he has kidnapped.  The girl is virginal and innocent, but is accepting of becoming a whore and performing for the gangster, her initial resistance is easily overcome, and she soon quietens.  The film isn’t above cliché, as we learn pretty much all men who go to whores are soulless losers, mostly with evil intent.  Also, love tears asunder loyalty and friendship, a woman will come between brothers, colleagues, and yes – gangsters.  The fact is, in this film, the woman cuts a more destructive path than the gangsters.

Given the themes, you’d think this film was salacious with ample opportunity for some hardcore porn and violence.  However, that’s not really Ki-Duk’s MO.  Sure, we have some soft core grinding, some brief nudity, along with several fights, stabbings, and beatings.  However, the gorehounds and grindhouse fans are likely to be disappointed with the overall tone of the film (enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack).  There was the possibility of something very much over-the-top here, but in the end we have a meditative movie with, believe it or not, a heart and soul.

Of course, there’s not much you’re going to see that makes sense to western sensibilities.  If you loved someone would you enjoy watching them have sex with strangers?  Would you allow people to beat her into submission?  Would you kidnap her and ensure she cannot escape?  Would you kill therefore losing her forever?  And if you can imagine being the girl, wouldn’t you simply run away?  Would you accept your role as sex object for your kidnapper and clients alike?  Could you ever begin to care about the man who brought you to such a place?

The nature of love is indeed vague and strange, but one has to admit “Bad Guy” stretches credibility a bit, and probably ten minutes too long.  Yet it is convincingly portrayed, and you begin to get pulled into this relationship.  The woman is somehow now protected, better off than she ever was away from her pimp.  The pimp is human, with real feelings and caring.  Expect the film to bother you for all the things it’s not (reinforcing things we imagine we know through years of propaganda), rather than for what you actually see.  Ki-Duk maintains his stance as a challenging Director, both within a film, and across his filmography.  I can’t wait for his next effort.


4:3 Full Frame
Dolby Dolby Digital 5.1 – Korean
DTS Digital - Korean

- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Behind the Scenes
- Asia Extreme Trailer Reel

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