"Most people will tell you that it's one of the greatest titles to come out of Korean cinema and all I can say is: Did I watch the same film?"
- Mighty Peking Man
Die Bad (2000)
Director: Ryu Seung-Wan
Producer: Kim Sun-Kuk
Cast: Ryu Seung-Wan, Park Sung-Bin, Ruy Seung-Bum, Bae Joong-Sik
Running Time: 95 min.
Plot: After being released from prison, a man is seduced back into a life of crime after his desperate attempts to go straight -- ironically as the result of a good deed.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: "Die Bad" opens in a billiards hall where two groups of teenagers from two different schools start some minor bickering. This vocal-quarrel turns into some serious shit when one of the group's own shows up, all beaten, out of nowhere. As the student stumbles in, he points to the one who's responsible - this instantly ignites a full-on gang fight between the two groups, resulting in a fatal ending as one student accidentally kills another. The accidental-killer's name is Sung-Bin and his fate is forever changed as he's imprisoned for an unintentional murder.
Years later, Sung-Bin is released from prison. Now, in his late twenties, he's trying to re-establish his life but finds it difficult. His father disowns him, his old friends don't talk to him and nobody wants to hire him because of his criminal background; and to top it off, he has an asshole parol officer who's watching his every move. Luckily, Sung-Bin finally gets a job at a car garage where everything seems to be going great until he repeatedly crosses paths with Kim Tai-hoon, one of the city's biggest gangsters. After an incident that has Sung-Bin saving Kim Tai-hoon's ass from a few thugs, the two become well acquainted and an instant friendship is formed. "How would you like to work for me?", says Kim Tai-hoon. Giving up the greasy wrench and the pathetic hourly wage, Sung-Bin accepts his offer.
At this point, I urge everyone to press stop and eject on the DVD player because "Die Bad" literally goes from "okay" to bad. It was actually getting interesting (minus the deceased student's ghost) and thought it was only going to get better. Boy was I wrong. Since I wasn't fortunate enough to press stop and eject, I get to tell ya what the film does become.
After Sung-Bin decides on being a gangster, "Die Bad" does a 360º on our asses, transforming it's standard structure into a documentary-like presentation. Sung-Bin is no longer in sight, instead, we get an unknown cop and Kim Tai-hoon looking straight into the camera explaining why they have chosen their respective careers. Director Ryu Seung-Wan thinks he's up to something new, little does he know that some of us still remember Gordon Chan's "Beast Cops" from 5-years ago.
Intertwined with the "documentary" is a really long and tedious fight between the two narrators. The funny thing about this fight sequence is it doesn't know whether it wants to be realistic or exaggerated. Most of the time, it's an all-out gritty punch fest, at other times the men are doing Ken/Ryu-like spin kicks that send them flying 10-feet in the air which make this scene look ridiculous. And before anyone reminds me that it was the director's indented "style, just take a look at the serious themes and the film's low-budget underground look which naturally pre-sets the film's life-like tone. In other words, these "Street Fighter II: Turbo" moves seem very out of place.
After the videogame-inspired fight-fest the film becomes black & white (literally) and for no reason at all. Maybe the director is a big fan of "Rumble Fish"? In addition to the black & white transition, the story jumps ahead a year or two (or month or two, it's hard to say....) to a new breed of teenage punks who dream of being big-time crime bosses. And remember Sung-Bin?, well, he pops out of nowhere and is now at the top of his game wearing $5000 suits while trying to act cool. Towards the end of the film, the audience discovers the connection between Sung-Bin, Sung-Bin's old friend, and his old friend's little brother. It's a connection that's supposed to make some kind of ironic impact on the viewer, but for me, I just wanted to hit the fast-forward button and pop in "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance".
The film's conclusion is quite bloody. Two gangs and a fight to the death in an abandoned building. Probably the film's best moment due to Ryu Seung-Wan's eye for capturing the rawness of an authentic bloody brawl. Thank god for his inconsistency, because this time there are no exaggerated beatings or stabbings, just straight-forward mayhem the way mother nature intended.
To sum it all up, Ryu Seung-Wan's "Die Bad" is a sloppy mix of style and substance; and for his debut feature, it's not a bad film, but I certainly didn't enjoy it. Most people will tell you that it's one of the greatest titles to come out of Korean cinema and all I can say is: Did I watch the same film?
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 4/10