NO MERCY FOR THE RUDE: a review from IFFR 2007
Todd may have beaten me to reviewing this but I got to see it in a full cinema, with the director attending! And glad to see it I was for "No Mercy For the Rude" is an entertaining and quirky ehh...damn. Hard to explain.
That's the point about quirky, isn't it? It's weird in a playful way, so you can safely assume some inherent comedy, but that's where it ends. Is it a crime thriller? A drama? A gangster movie? Or just straight comedy?
Predictably it's a mixture of all as the plot summary shows:
Shin Ha-Kyun plays a guy who becomes a hitman so he can raise money for surgery to fix the speech impediment which has left him a mute. Being a nice fellow he only wants to kill people he considers to be part of "The Rude", meaning all scumbags in the world. He takes to the job and things go great in his weird little world until he acquires a girlfriend (or rather she acquires him). A boy he temporarily gives shelter also refuses to leave him alone, so suddenly this quiet and reclusive killer has a family to support. Throw in the sort of coincidences favored in French comedies and the inescapable melodrama Asian cinema seems to love so much, and you get something quite ehh... quirky.
Which can work either for or against a movie, as many a decent thriller is in my opinion spoiled by the perceived need to add some extra "quirk".
Nevertheless this one was high on my list to see for several reasons, foremost being to see if I liked it enough to buy the Korean Limited Edition DVD. Turned out I got a pleasant surprise: director Park Chul-Hee was present in the cinema to introduce his film, this being the European premiere. He stayed through the whole movie and gave a Q&A afterwards, which is always classy.
In his introduction he said that he was still not satisfied with the flow of this movie (his first, by the way). He was aware of the pacing issues, but time restraints prevented him from being able to sort these out in the editing room. He asked us to stay till the very end even if we became bored, because the final words of the main character sum up what the whole movie was about. Then he told us that the movie was more about characters and less about story so we shouldn't look too hard at the story. He also asked us to take notice of the ways in which the main character communicates with his surroundings, lacking the ability to speak, as a lot of care had gone into those details.
All in all this made him sound not too confident that his movie would play well for this audience. He needn't have worried: "No Mercy For the Rude" turned out to be a crowd pleaser. After its first showing it even shot into the top 5 contestants for the public price with a very decent rating of 4.27 out of 5. To compare: site favorite "The Host" got rated 4.00 and Johnnie To's "Exiled" got 4.07 so this is high praise indeed.
The secret here is the terrific performance by Shin Ha-Kyun. The character he portrays is vain, immature, a show-off of the worst sort and obsessed with style over content, yet Shin manages to make this guy shy and likable! No mean feat considering this killer has a considerable moral blind spot, to the point where he starts killing people to be able to cure his imperfections. Throughout the movie this character is cool yet utterly ridiculous, and because he still has some child-like innocence left you keep hoping that his plans will turn out right for him. One of the impediments to this happening is the woman who crashes his house and repays him with sexual favors, and she (in the credits known as "She") is played by Yoon Ji-Hye. Even though the movie is Shins she is also very good and the scenes between the two of them work remarkably well. For those of us with baser instincts, yes she is stunning and yes you get to see a lot of her. Which may in fact partly explain that 4.27 rating. Add to that some nice action scenes (mostly knife fights, always difficult) and truly funny moments and it makes it easy to forgive the spots where the pacing is a bit off or where the coincidences in the story make it fail to suspend your disbelief.
This is a fine example where "quirky" isn't a curse.
During the Q&A I managed to snap a shot of Mr. Chul-Hee himself and you can see it here. The non-spoiler audience questions in short:
Q: Why the main character's interest in bullfighting?
A: In bullfighting there is one moment where life and death are in the balance and decided by the actions taken in that moment. It is that situation which appeals to Shin's character.
Q: Shin Ha-Kyun also played a mute in "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance". Was this role written specifically for him?
A: No, although he may have influenced it a bit in our minds during the preparation of the script. Now that he's played it so well it seems as though it was tailor-made for him.
Then I got a chance to ask something as well. Gulp:
Q: In your introduction you said there were things you were still not satisfied with, yet you were kind enough to watch the whole movie with us. Is it difficult for you to be re-watching this movie when you still have problems with it?
(And now I have to cheat with the answer. My question had to be translated and clarified, twice, and for a moment I thought I had insulted him. The answer was even more lengthy than the question, and the interpreter obviously had some trouble, so I have to give you the extremely shortened version.)
To summarize the film: a fun movie although as it turns out Park Chul-Hee was right with every word in his introduction. I wouldn't go so far myself to rate this above "The Host" or "Exiled" but it's surely an easy movie to like (and I've indeed ordered that Limited Edition DVD).