At this point we, as a community, have come to place certain expectations on films coming from different regions and genres. Harry Kim's neo-noir, Too Many Villains, does a nifty job of straddling the line between upholding the positive assumptions we often place on Korean thrillers, while simultaneously bucking many of the prevailing trends of that genre.
The floodgates for Korean revenge thrillers opened up about ten years ago and have become increasingly brutal and self-indulgent, often to the delight of fans. Movies regularly stretch well past the two hour mark, leaving butchered bodies and orphaned limbs in their wake. Too Many Villains opts for a more classical structure in both respects, and is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stagnant world of Korean thrillers.
In a plot that could have been ripped from a 1940's Dashiell Hammett thriller, this is the archetypal film noir tale, transposed to the modern day. Harry Kim is obviously a big fan of the traditional noir films from America, and borrows many conventions for his story of a hard-boiled private dick hunting down the woman who bounced a check for services rendered. As is typically the case, detective Gang-pil, ends up in deeper water than he'd intended and things simultaneously go south quickly while all signs point to corruption at the highest levels of local government. With a divorce lawyer to pay and a burning desire to go legit, Gang-pil is determined to wrap up this one last gig before going straight, but will he make it out alive?
What makes Too Many Villains stand out from the raft of quality Korean thrillers, is what is missing, namely runtime and grue. The film runs an extremely tight seventy five minutes, which is only a little more than half of what you'd expect from your typical Korean thriller. This is extremely smart on Kim's part; the film is paced extremely well and avoids melodrama, unnecessary back-story, and keeps a laser focus on what is important. The distinct lack of butcher knives, hatchets, claw hammers, and other such smashing implements is also noteworthy. The film plays like a classic noir, which may include a few fights, but none of the overwrought (though entertaining) heroic bloodshed stuff that's become so popular these days.
As a big film noir fan, I was intrigued by the film's blurb in the AFFD program, but skeptical about what to expect. However, Harry Kim has delivered a solid feature debut that shows some real talent and a new and potentially unique voice in Korean cinema. He's not as flashy as some of the bigger names working, and Too Many Villains may feel a bit too milquetoast for the fans of bloodier fare, but it is nice to see someone doing something different.
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