Last time I went to Koreatown while The Flower hung out with her friends, I managed to get there just in time to score a double-feature: A Special Lady and A Blackened Heart. While the latter was a mystery thriller with a heavily dramatic third act, this was more of a straight-up gangster action flick except that the main character is a woman, and for all the preposterousness of certain aspects of it, it was very true to the main character and the limitations she would have. Allow me to elucidate.
Na is the right-hand woman of Big Gangster guy. When the movie opens she’s running a brothel where many important men are having much sex (rather graphically, I might add) with many beautiful Korean hookers who are all in the pay of Big Gangnam. They’re also all being filmed, because duh. (This actually was a sticking point for me: I couldn’t figure out why all these Important Guys would go to the Known Brothel, except that the girls were really cute. They must not have known—in fact, the Big Bad Cop couldn’t have known or he wouldn’t have done what he did—but there’s a distinct implication that this is an open secret—to the extent it’s secret at all.)
Anyway, Na’s son is coming into town from his private school, where he’s been kicked out again. Oh, and he doesn’t know he’s Na’s son. He knows he’s the son of Big Gangnam, though. He doesn’t think much of his mother, not knowing she’s his mother.
The gist is: Big Gangnam is pulling a Big Scheme to Control All The Things; meanwhile, his right-hand man (not woman) Lim wants to expand the business to include drugs and guns, something which Big Gangnam refuses to do, arguing that it leads only to chaos. Also, Lim is hot for Na, and doesn’t realize that she has a son with Big Gangnam. And there’s a cop, too. He seems like a good guy cop but quickly turns out to be very, very bad. He wants to take down Big Gangnam, but only because BG has dirt on him. This creates the atmosphere for an alliance between Bad Cop and Lim.
So, this is a pretty bog-standard gangster melodrama, as noted, except that the main character is the Special Lady in question, and rather refreshingly she’s allowed to be, y’know, a woman. That is to say, she’s allowed to care about her son even when he treats her horribly disrespectfully. She’s allowed to care about other women she sees going down a path similar to the one she regrets. She’s allowed to be a badass without being superpowered and invincible.
The last, in particular, is something you don’t see much in American movies. Na gets into fights with men and, generally speaking, they beat the hell out of her. Because that’s usually what happens when men fight women. But she’s smart, and she knows her limitations, so she often comes up with alternate ways of dealing with the violence directed at her. Often these plans don’t work, but you end up admiring the hell out of her for trying, and admiring the movie for letting her be imperfect.
The ending sort of drops the ball as far as that goes, but only long enough to get her to her big dramatic moment. One tends to feel that the movie earned its moment of stretching hard, literal truths because it saves that stretch to build to the narrative goal.
I liked it. It’s probably on a par with a good American action movie, but the novelty of the approach raised it above the fold for me. Even as the second film of a double-feature I was not bored or tired, which is a good sign.