Killa (Shin Ha-kyun of ‘Mr Vengeance’ & ‘Save the Green Planet’) was born with a short tongue, the embarrassment of which has rendered him mute. He longs for an operation to fix his tongue & allow him to speak, but the cost of the operation is seemingly beyond his means as a chef – that is, until he hits on the idea of becoming a hitman. With the occasional aid of his best friend & fellow hitman Ballet (Kim Min-jun of ‘To Sir, With Love’) - who is saving up to open a dance school - he takes only contracts on the Rude of society – those he feels deserve assassination. Then one evening in a bar he meets She (Yoon Ji-hye of ‘Whispering Corridors’), & takes her back to his flat, where she sleeps for two days before waking up & repaying his kindness by forcing him to have continual sex with her until he’s sore; she then leaves & says she won’t return. With a cop nosing around his affairs, & an unusual domestic situation developing, can Killa keep it together long enough to raise the cash for his operation?
Park Chul-hee, writer of the better than average K-horror ‘Face’, makes his directorial debut with ‘No Mercy for the Rude’, the latest hyper-violent & sardonic thriller to emerge from Korea. And a very impressive job he makes of it too, delivering a film that manages to live outside the shadow of obvious precursor & role model ‘OldBoy’. From ‘Mr Socrates’ to ‘Princess Aurora’, there seems to be a veritable production line of Korean films aiming to replicate the success of Park Chan-wook’s modern classic, & if ‘No Mercy…’ doesn’t quite match up to the level of ‘OldBoy’ or ‘Save the Green Planet’, it nestles comfortably above ‘A Bittersweet Life’ in the highest level of second tier of such films.
The film is filled with neat details, such as the way the three lead characters are never named outside the credits, or the way our mute antihero nonetheless narrates the action with a coolly detached voiceover (although there’s none of the startling audio design of ‘Mr Vengeance’). It’s also a surprisingly funny film, with subtle black humour mixing alongside pratfalls, & yet it’s to Park Chul-hee’s credit that even with the swings from comedy to drama, light to dark, the overriding tone is coherent & compelling. Visually, it’s yet another beautiful Korean effort, with some well thought-out choice of angles & movements, & eyeball-soothing lighting. There’s great mileage obtained from the juxtaposition of Killa’s brightly-lit flat, with its off-kilter family unit inside, & the darker street life outside.
The narrative is perhaps one of the films weaker elements, in that it’s pretty clear early on where the film is heading. Ultimately, even if we’re virtually assured of the destination, it’s the journey that really matters here, & the detailing of back-story adds some welcome kinks along the way, & the scenery is always fascinating. More to the point, what initially seem like thin archetypes rather than genuine characters are fleshed out & given depth during the running time, as the film reveals itself to be more of a weird character study than anything else. It’s precisely this emphasis on character, & indeed a half-assed but heartfelt poetic soul, that lifts ‘No Mercy…’ up from the ranks of ‘OldBoy’ wannabes.
Key to the films success in this area is the performances, & this is where the film really scores. Although the character is virtually a mesh of his roles in ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’ & ‘Save the Green Planet’, Shin Ha-kyun delivers a stunning performance, blending a dreamy childish innocence with twitching craziness & supercool confidence. With his black leather outfit & shades, he has the look to match. Yoon Ji-hye is just as good, starting out as a rather slutty enigma, & slowly revealing the complexities beneath. The scene where she reads Killa’s poetry is wonderfully played, nestling somewhere between almost absurdist comedy & genuine emotional truth. The chemistry between the two leads is spot-on, & the way they play off each other in their scenes together is a joy to watch.
With its blending of absurd humour, surprising depth - & let’s not forget a huge helping of well-choreographed ultra-violence and surprisingly explicit sex – ‘No Mercy for the Rude’ is assuredly something of an eccentric beast, but it’s also a hugely entertaining & memorable one that is well worth seeking out.
The Korean R3/NTSC DVD from enterOne boasts a good-looking anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer on disc 1, with Korean Dolby 5.1 audio & English or Korean subtitles. I bought the 3-Disc Limited Edition version, which boasts a commentary on Disc 1 (Korean language only), & a whole wodge of features on Disc 2 – which again are Korean language only. I’m told this disc includes: Making Of Documentary, Interview with Cast & Crew, CG Effects Featurette, Production Meeting, VIP Screening, Poster Shoot, World Cup Special Clip, 'Etiquette' Campaign Videos, & Various Trailers – so add a star or two to the rating if you can understand Korean!
Disc 3 is the original soundtrack album, which thankfully you don’t need any subtitles to be able to enjoy (although it does include sampled dialogue), whilst the package also includes a rather nice booklet, & it comes in a high-quality foldout digipack. You may want to wait until a nicer priced edition comes along (possibly with features in English) – but given that the film has apparently been picked up by the Weinstein’s you may have a long wait!