It was that time of year again: Halloween! Yeah, we basically celebrate it on the third or fourth Thursday of September, then kind of forget about it until October 31st. But on that Thursday, we go to Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt, and to avoid traffic we go down early. Which works out because Korean movie chain CGV opened a theater walking distance from the park. And which also was featuring a throwback showing of Along With Gods. But first up was The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos—or as I like to call it Korean Suicide Squad. Or you could replaced “Korean” with “Good”.
I kid. Sorta. I never saw Suicide Squad because if ever there were a string of movies that screamed “Product In Search Of Meager Artistic Expression” it would be the DC movies. WB knows it has something valuable but never stops to consider that the value is exploitable—but not intrinsic (any more than Disney realizes it with Star Wars and Marvel, which I think we are finally on the downswing of).
Anyway, this is a similar premise, without the (overt) super-villainy. A bus on its way to prison is flipped, releasing a bunch of baddies into the countryside, but the target seems to have been a gang leader. The only thing is, this leader is kind of broken down and his gang is small potatoes. Old, sick but honest cop, who was suspended for assembling a team of bad guys to round up even badder guys (with extreme prejudice) is called back in to…well, to do the same thing that got him suspended.
Much like the Chinese movie we saw prior to this, this is actually a movie spin-off of an earlier (2014) TV show which explains the allusions to the head cop’s former activities. I mean, it’s totally unnecessary for there to have been a past story or set of stories, but it’s kind of cool that there was and that some of the same actors were there. Dong-seok Ma who is now, I believe, all our favorite has a backstory with the very cute Ye-Won Kang, but she’s knocked out of commission early on. Given how little of their story is shown, it makes more sense that the audience itself might have a previous connection to her.
It’s fun. Dong-seok gets to stomp around like Yongary (think Korean Godzilla) smashing doors and sweeping his enemies aside with a brush of his mighty thews. (Checks dictionary…) Yes, his thews! They are mighty and smite his enemies with ease. Dong-seok is about 5′ 9″, though he is a bulky guy, and as I say, pretty much our favorite Korean actor at this point. Chang Ki-Yong is the young toughie, more typical of Korean gangsters which, as The Boy points out, are generally muscular and wiry but also skinny as hell.
Kim A-Joong is the femme fatale, which is always more adorable than fatale-feeling in Korean films. With the very notable exception of The Handmaiden, Korean actress tend to portrayed rather demurely. As we noted with Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, the girl with dubious moral values was one who had “spent time in America”. So Kim’s character here is saucily, y’know, wearing jeans. Then, when she’s really amping it up, she switches to…jorts? With long black stockings?
And while she is lovely, she is also skinny. Now, for Koreans (male or female) skinny doesn’t look scary as it tends to for Americans. But still, 5’6″ (probably exaggerated) and 105# (probably also exaggerated) doesn’t produce the same effect as, well, any more weight (or even height) would. And the camera never lingers or leers. Also kind of cute: As her character becomes less of a bimbo and more of a functioning member of the team, she starts dressing more professionally and behaving more demurely.
I’m not gonna knock it. Modesty is underdeveloped in the West. We can’t seem to decide whether it’s oppressive or respectful and seem to have settled on a code of “Women never have to be modest, but no one is ever allowed to comment on it one way or the other” which is essentially psychotic.
Anyway, very mild spoiler here, as we unravel the mystery of the crime, it turns out the Japanese are behind it. I literally raised my fist into the air and cheered. (We were the only ones in the theater.) The movie actually draws a comparison to the occupation, which my Korean-American co-worker (who’s married to a Korean-Korean girl) suggests may be due to certain contemporary tensions between Korea and Japan. (He’s an American so he doesn’t pay attention to this stuff, but his wife rather insists.)
I mean, it’s gotta be the Japanese, right? I wonder if the apparency of that fact has to do with these current circumstances. I would find that amusing because the villainy of the Japanese is probably the most consistent element of the Korean movies we have seen, unless you count the lassitude and corruption of the Korean Deep State. But the Japanese are never unaccompanied by traitorous Koreans, so maybe they have edge.
In this case, the Japanese are just using Korea as the trial run for their neo-Imperialistic shenanigans on their way to China, and the heroes actually say it’s just like the occupation. If it weren’t for the profusion of “Hello, Kitty” merchandise in the hands of actual Koreans, I might be worried. As it is, I assume they, like us, get their messages from their local large corporations and this is just some kind of squabble between Samsung and Sony.
You’re never really in danger of taking it seriously. It is earnest, with likable characters, but is mostly just trying to be fun and entertaining, and succeeds.