Film Review: Rough Cut / Yeonghwaneun Yeonghwada (2008)
Rough Cut: One Smooth Ride, Coming Up
by Ender’s Girl
So Ji-sub, Kang Ji-hwan, Hong Soo-hyeon, Ko Chang-seok
Directed by Jang Hoon; Screenplay by Kim Ki-duk and Ok Jin-gon / Kim Ki-duk Film, 2008
In a Nutshell:
A chance encounter between a gangster and a movie star blurs the boundaries between their very different worlds — with somewhat disturbing consequences.
(SpoilLert: No whoppers, yay.)
I watched Rough Cut with my best friend, and it was totally worth the hypothetical dinero we would’ve shelled out had we gone and seen the film in theaters (which we obviously didn’t, because (1) we live in a different climate zone for Pete’s sake; and (2) downloading rawwwks, baybeh). But I can see why Rough Cut attracted Korean moviegoers and made a killing at the box office: it’s fast-paced and entertaining, with badass fight choreography and strong, solid (and not to mention award!!!-winning!!!) performances from Messrs. So Ji-sub (as the gangster, Gang Pae) and Kang Ji-hwan (as the movie star, Soo Ta).
The premise is a funny little switcheroo of sorts: think “The Prince and the Pauper” meets Wife Swap meets Trading Places. You have a gangster who secretly longs to be an actor, and an actor who behaves like a gangster — fanciful, yes, but interesting. And there’s a certain droll symmetry to the characters of Gang Pae and Soo Ta: on one hand you have this moody, dispassionate gangster with a strange code of honor, and then you have this reckless, licentious movie star whose gets embroiled in the consequences of his own actions. The movie is rife with point/counterpoint metaphors and visual imagery — black outfits vs. white, underworld vs. celluloid, real vs. reel, gangsta vs. film star — to an almost exaggerated degree (but then, with characters literally named “Gangster” and “Star,” I doubt the writers were aiming for any kind of subtlety here). Obviously this style was meant to underscore the contrast between their stations in life, as well as their respective ways of dealing with the repercussions of their choices, which inevitably spiral out of control as the story progresses. And by the time the movie’s climax comes to a head, you’re left breathless and transfixed.
It’s really So Ji-sub who carries this movie, owing just as much to his brooding, inwardly seething portrayal of Gang Pae, as to the way his character was written, with all the complexity and inner conflict. I’m not really a So Ji-sub fan (Kang Ji-hwaaaan, saraaaang!!! — now you know why I watched this movie at all, heh heh), but you gotta admit that So Ji-sub has this undeniably intense on-screen presence — which makes him pretty much perfect for the role.
My man Kang Ji-hwan (*swoons*), on the other hand, has a less developed character (as that puffed-up, egotistic scumbucket of a movie star), one that isn’t as multi-dimensional as So Ji-sub’s Gang Pae tha Gangsta. But Ji-hwan ably delivers the goods and makes the most of the material, playing his role with characteristic relish and aplomb. The two female characters rounding off this compact cast (Soo Ta’s leading lady, and his clandestine inamorata, respectively) are really no more than decorative in function, and the actresses playing them are no great shakes, either. But no matter. So Ji-sub and Kang Ji-hwan are all you really need for the ride, anyway.
The movie has enough twists to keep you glued, and the dialogue is laced with irony and wry humor in unexpected places. And I’m glad the writers and director steered clear of the melodrama and artificial sob-inducing moments (uh, Typhoon, anyone? *dies laughing*), and focused instead on taut storytelling unencumbered by the usual schmaltzy baggage that (sadly) typifies many Korean films that I’ve seen. The fight scenes are slick and gritty at the same time, and are (IMO) enough reason to go watch the movie. Gang Pae and Soo Ta’s final showdown on the exposed mudflats at low tide is a particularly badass moment, and one of my favorite scenes in the film. In more ways than one it seems a fight to the death, as both men go at each other with bone-crunching blows and feral snarls, eyes blazing in their mud-caked faces, teeth bared in grim resolve. You hear nothing but their grunts of pain and exertion, mingled with the squelch of their feet on sludge as they wrestle each other to the ground. Pretty thrilling stuff, to say the least. As far as cinematic entertainment goes, Rough Cut definitely makes the cut.
Artistic & technical merit: B
Entertainment value: B
Photo credits: asiandramaqueen.com, hancinema.net, koreandrama.com, tantm.blogevim.com