Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Public Enemy

Just when you think I'm talking about a recent Michael Mann picture, nope, that's a plural. This is Public Enemy, singular. As one might also expect from my obsession with Korea, which started long before this adventure, it's a Korean movie. It's also utterly, completely, amazing.

Truth be told, I was a bit worried when I popped in the DVD. First trailer? An ad for an Anime channel, seemingly bragging about how derivative all Anime is (several thousand gigantic robots! Hundreds of spunky magical girls! A billion kids with bad hair!). Second ad? An anime magazine, drowning in pastels and an unhealthy obsession with Japan. This is what they think people watching Public Enemy want? Derivative crap for people obsessed with Japan? Besides, this movie is Korean! Korea is not Japan! In fact, if one would to go by the quality of local cinema - and being somewhat obsessed with Korean cinema, I would do that - Korea is better than Japan. Though if one were to do that, Brazil would be the best country in the world, and that's not... accurate.

Another concern arose when I pressed play, and the default was an anime-quality dub. First off, dubs in live action? A definite no-no. I'm not one of those snobs when it comes to dubs in animation, but with live action dubs, the seams always show. Since we, as humans, can correlate the sounds coming out of someone's mouth to the motions, you can instantly tell something's gone awry. Not helping matters is that they got typical anime voices, which for some reason tend to be bottom of the barrel voice talent. Combined, you have a movie watcher scrambling to find the menu button.

But I forgive you, ADV, since once I got the settings in order and the movie proper started, I could see I was in for something interesting. When an hour was over, I was already wondering just how high in my all time lists of favorites it would be. In the last twenty minutes, I was literally on the edge of my seat. That never, ever happens. I can't remember the last time I was so excited to see what happened next I was nearly falling off the couch in anticipation.

So what is the story behind this 2 hours and 18 minutes of pure excellence? Well, in one corner, we have highly corrupt and extremely violent police officer Inspector Gang, brilliantly realized by Kyung-gu Sol. We meet him when his partner has killed himself, and he's being investigated for corruption. This is because he is corrupt, and has just stolen a proper crapload of cocaine from a group of criminals. In the other corner, we are introduced to Jo Kyu-Hwan - actually it's spelled differently in the film but I'm going by the IMDB - who is introduced as a likable family man who also happens to enjoy pleasuring himself in the shower. He's also played even more brilliantly by Sung-jae Lee, demonstrating unflappable calm and barely restrained anger. The scenes where he's trying to convincingly cry are absolutely amazing. Who do you think we're supposed to root for here?

From those introductions we start moving into the film proper, which can only be considered a black comedy/action picture. But, unlike many black comedies, this one is genuinely funny. Sometimes, it's absolutely hilarious, especially in every single scene where Gang has to do math. Gang's investigation of Kyu-Hwan is frequently fraught with difficulties, many of his own creation. While he might have a redemptive arc, he's objectively an ass. However, he's a likable ass, and you begin to feel for him as he gets steadily more obsessed with hunting down a man who he believes cut his face and made him get poo on his hands.

Helping his case is the fact that the audience knows from the outset that his suspicions are right. Our family man is quickly revealed to be not exactly a nice person, and our corrupt cop actually cares about the community as much as he enjoys beating up thugs. They're also presented roughly as equals in fighting style, which helps bring genuine tension to the action scenes. Almost as much tension as is brought to the table by the absolutely fantastic direction, staging, and everything to do with the action scenes. Director Woo-Suk Kang knows deep within his bones how to film a fight sequence, and he does some absolutely fantastic ones. The final battle is one of the all time great fistfights, I'm sure of it.

Seriously, I'm having great difficulty figuring out anything I wasn't absolutely enthralled by. Alright, if you have a crippling fear of naked men, you might want to be advised that, at the beginning of the film, we see a lot of men's butts. Of course, this could be a selling point for some people - Sung-jae Lee is very physically fit, and even gets a workout montage for all the ladies in the audience. It also doesn't start especially quickly, and the opening about what it's like to be police could be considered superfluous. But I'm just nitpicking because I don't want to say this is seriously the best movie I've seen in ages.

In fact, I'm stunned that there haven't been waves to remake this for American audiences. Americans love anti-heroes, they love it when wealthy psychopaths are beat down, and they love good old fashioned blackly comic action thrillers. Maybe American directors have secretly admitted they won't be able to top this, and there is absolutely nothing they could improve on. Seriously, while this isn't the best movie I've seen since starting this project - Z probably takes that - this is absolutely fantastic and everyone who enjoys a good dark comedy action thriller needs to see it now. Just ignore all that anime crap on the DVD, and be sure to switch to Korean w/subtitles.


  1. ADV put out the only anime I actually like here in the states, so I think they're ok, but yeah the type of anime they advertise before the show starts is like ultra violent stupid stuff, and the actual show was the most innocuous thing. It's like they assume that if you like one kind of anime, you're going to like it all...

    That's beside the point though, you're making me really want to check out these awesome Korean films, and I'm about to be living with a friend who loves foreign films, so I might have to acquire some of these and show them to him too.

  2. I think after watching this ADV is a pretty cool company with a terrible marketing department.