Korean writer-director Lee Myung-Se has devised a kinetic live-action cartoon of a flick consisting of wall-to-wall visual inventiveness and sharply glittering surfaces. It’s both impressive and numbing, busily rushing to well-tended climactic peaks but dramatically undernourished. Lee’s bag of tricks include slow-motion, freeze frames, decelerating movement, inserts of brightly colored drawings and arabesque point-of-view shots. This eagerness to hold the viewer’s attention is so desperate, it’s almost touching. Ironically, one’s mind may start to wander after the sixth or seventh hit of adrenaline-soaked shallowness, if only in self-defense.
The film has a really beautiful opening set piece, the murder of a drug kingpin accompanied by the psychedelic-lite strains of the Bee Gees’ “Holiday” (an odd choice which returns, orchestrated, during the final showdown). After that, it’s an attenuated hunt and chase for the murderer, led by the roughish loose cannon, Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon), an overgrown kid who likes his job a little too much and who, when he flashes his charismatic smile, bears a disconcerting resemblance to Marlon Brando in The Teahouse of the August Moon. Some of the fights, like the one on a speeding train, ooze an infectious, self-aware cleverness, and others are just fights. The action pauses long enough to offer two time-honored cop movie clichés, the one where someone asks Woo how he came to be a detective and the one where Woo’s rookie partner suffers a little guilt after his first kill.
But this is a movie that shouldn’t be chastised for not being what it didn’t set out to be. Lee knows he’s dealing with clichés and he tries mightily to give them a freshening twist — and largely succeeds. But since for him the crux of activity lies in the machinations of the camera, the movie doesn’t go much beyond the “wow … cool” level.
It’s like a Hong Kong actioner without the cold grace of choreographed, seemingly real-time violence. It’s fun, then forgettable.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].