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Ji Jin-Hee cuts loose in Soo.
Year: 2007  
Director: Choi Yang-Il (Yoichi Sai)  
  Writer: Choi Yang-Il (Yoichi Sai), Lee Joon-Il, Lee Seung-Hwan
  Cast: Ji Jin-Hee, Kang Seong-Yeon, Moon Seong-Geun, Lee Ki-Young, Oh Man-Seok, Jo Kyeong-Hwan, Choi Doek-Moon, Yang Yeong-Jo, Kim Joon-Bae, Lee Jae-Goo, Kim Yeong-Ok
  The Skinny: The first film by Korean-Japanese director Yoichi Sai to be shot completely in Korean is a brutal revenge film driven by powerful raw violence, but also bogged down by uneven exposition. In other words, don't expect another Blood and Bones.
Kevin Ma:
     Japanese-born Korean director Yoichi Sai has a bit of a conflicting reputation as a director in his native Japan. While his previous work was the unrelentingly brutal critical winner Blood and Bones, Sai also found commercial success in the same year with the cute puppy film Quills. However, Sai's Korean directorial debut Soo shows very clearly the type of reputation he wants to build in Korea. The violent revenge film required multiple cuts and went through multiple submission processes before it was approved by the censorship board. But even as a revenge action flick, Soo is definitely something different than what one might expect from Sai.
     The title of the film comes from the protagonist's name Tae-Soo (Ji Jin-Hee). He has a twin brother Tae-Jin (also played by Ji), with whom he roamed around the fish market 19 years ago. One day, Tae-Soo tries to steal from a gang who end up catching Tae-Jin for the crime instead, leading to the brothers' separation. While Soo becomes an efficient mob fixer/assassin who is hated by police and rival criminals alike, Jin becomes a police detective, even though he once worked for the gang Soo stole from. One day, a mysterious call leads Soo to Tae-Jin, but just as the two brothers lock eyes and get ready for some brotherly bonding, Tae-Jin is killed. Overwhelmed equally by grief and rage, Tae-Soo sets himself on a straight line of revenge by doing whatever it takes to find his brother's killer, including impersonating Tae-Jin to infiltrate the police force. Then again, Tae-Soo doesn't have to do too much to find the killers, because the gang, thinking that he's Tai-Jin, intends on finishing the job they believe they failed to accomplish.
     Soo sounds like it should be on auto-pilot from there, with Tae-Soo plowing down enemies one by one before finally getting his very bloody revenge. However, Sai doesn't take the route set by his contemporaries such as Park Chan-Wook, who made a trilogy of revenge films with dark humor and showy camerawork. Sai doesn't feel the need to reinvent the idea of vengeance; to Tae-Soo, the death of his brother destroyed his life's one goal, so he replaces it with the task of avenging his death - it's really that simple. On the other hand, Sai also strays from the raw brutal violence that he depicted with little emotions in Blood and Bones. In that particular film, viewers are shocked into sympathizing with anyone that falls under the iron grip of its key character. In Soo, Sai uses the violence as a tool for the perpetrator's satisfaction, not for inducing sympathy for its victims. Thus the director makes a conscious effort to build emotional attachment through cinematic touches such as music and unusually dark, atmospheric cinematography rarely seen in crisp, well-lit Korean films. The result is a work far more cinematic than his previous film, but also one that's more emotionally manipulative due to its disconnect from reality.
     Soo also loses its impact towards the end when Tae-Soo arrives at the last stage of his revenge. While Sai presents the violence in a shocking and primal manner (the blade being the primary weapon of choice), he begins to dispose of logic in favor of getting to a predestined ending. Unlike Park Chan-Wook's revenge films, Sai doesn't stylize the combat scenes; they are often chaotic, emphasizing the desperation in the characters' will to survive. In one instance, Tae-Soo even rips out an enemy's eyeball without blinking an eye (no pun intended), with Sai placing his camera right in front of the act with an equal lack of hesitation. While that final 40 minutes replaces dialogue with a lot of blood, Tae-Soo's incredible survival skills begin to get over-the-top as he survives getting sliced and diced repeatedly by dozens of henchmen. We get that Tae-Soo is not undefeatable, but we don't get how he manages to survive past the 90-minute point.
     Despite Sai's ability to satisfy the audience's bloodlust, he lacks a clear, straightforward narrative to earn sufficient motivation for his characters' actions. Even by the film's end, Tae-Jin's past remains sketchy at best, relying on the audience's connection to Tae-Soo to drive his revenge. We don't particularly care whether the scorned Tae-Jin deserved to die or not, especially when his death is suggested to be caused by a betrayal on his part. Even with the presence of Tae-Jin's girlfriend (Kang Seong-Yeon) to connect some of the dots, we only care about the revenge because Tae-Soo has been scorned, not because Tae-Jin was some kind of angel. This is especially unfortunate because Sai did depict the brothers' lives together before it went to hell. However, Tae-Jin lacks the development to make us believe that he was a man worth killing for.
     Nevertheless, Soo's concept is somewhat successful on paper because it doesn't take the easy way to revenge. In execution, Soo is wildly uneven, moving between slow exposition scenes of plot development and raw, brutal fight scenes dominated by chaos. However, it remains a compelling and violent action film thanks to Sai's fluid camerawork during the action scenes and the performances of his actors. Special kudos go to star Ji Jin-Hee, who sheds his romantic leading man reputation to become a believable killer who can stab and punch his way out of a fight. Sai also sheds the expectations put on him after Blood and Bones by delivering an arthouse spin on a straightforward revenge film. Still, the film's ultimate effectiveness remains highly debatable. (Kevin Ma 2007)
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Limited Edition
Region 3 NTSC
Art Service
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Making-Of Featurette, Interviews, Trailers
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen