Saturday, April 19, 2014

Instant Action: Sin-se-gae (New World, 2013)

This world doesn't seem like it's much better than the old one!

Screenplay By: Hoon-jung Park
Directed By: Hoon-jung Park

South Korean cinema has been a favorite of many a cinephile for a few years now. A bevy of high quality films and great directors have made the country of South Korea a bastion of cinema for the majority of cinephiles. A film like Sin-se-gae fits into the mold of what is dominating South Korean cinema at the moment. It's a smartly made crime thriller with a wee bit of a nasty side. It's not as mean and nasty as some of the more popular recent South Korean films, but it substitutes a wry sense of humor for meanness. In Sin-se-gae the story, characters, bursts of violence, and comedy all come together to form one heck of a motion picture.

I didn't expect to laugh as much as I did during Sin-se-gae. If one were to pay attention to the faces of every character, sans Jeong Cheong, Sin-se-gae comes across as the dourest of films. Everyone is so serious all the time, but when contrasted against the antics of Cheong the seriousness of the rest of the characters becomes kind of funny. Cheong is a killer, he's nowhere near a good guy, but he has an odd charm about him that makes him easy to like. He livens up the picture and his mere presence helps the other characters to find a comic middle ground. Sin-se-gae isn't ra ra funny, rather it's funny in an offbeat and deadpan manner. The humor in Sin-se-gae is the sort that's not served up for the viewer on a plate. But, if the viewer pays attention to the film they will find plenty to laugh about.

Sin-se-gae is as exhilarating as it is funny, probably even moreso. The majority of the film is calm, but peppered around said calm are bursts of violence and energy. One in particular that will catch the attention of any action minded cinephile is a gang fight that winds up with one guy against many in an elevator. It helps that one of the characters in the elevator is supremely magnetic, but the direction of that sequence is top notch as well. The end result of the violence doesn't really matter, it's the way that sequence manages to capture the essence of a character and provide bloody good energy that makes the scene special.

Hoon-jung Park's film makes good use of story and character to make sure that the story twists aren't ever actual twists. At first they appear to be twists, but thinking back about the time I spent with these characters their ultimate fates isn't a surprise twist at all. The screenplay of Sin-se-gae digs its claws into its main characters and makes their interactions matter. They are tropes, but because we delve so deeply into what makes them tick they transcend their trope origins. The story in Sin-se-gae is strong, and it takes its time to present characters who take their place in life versus being part of a twist.

Another great movie from South Korea, who would of thunk it? Sin-se-gae is well made in every way and a very enjoyable time at the movies. Park-ssi's film is full of energy, well thought out characters, and a story that is as satisfying as it is daring. While America is stuck churning out the same mob movies over and over again, Sin-se-gae proves that Asia is still where the best, and most inventive, crime movies are coming from.



Bill Thompson

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