No Mercy for the Rude (South Korea, 2006)

No Mercy For The Rude is a Korean film that tells the story of an assassin known as Killa, who is working to save up enough money to get a corrective surgical procedure.  He was born with a short tongue, giving him a speech impediment, and is now too embarrassed to talk.  Killa’s two great passions in life are seafood and bullfighting.  He loves to watch the bullfights on television and dreams of becoming a great matador one day and laments the fact that there are no bulls in Korea.  He prefers to use knives for his killing, having originally been a chef, and only accepting jobs killing those he feels are rude men.  As he draws near to his goal, he starts finding his life changing in unexpected ways.  A woman (played by Yun Ji Hye and identified only as “She”) he meets in a bar comically forces her way into his life, and later a chance encounter with a rather pushy homeless child leads to Killa finding himself dealing with a sort of makeshift family.  Then just as things seem to be coming together for all of them, a botched hit threatens everything.

Killa is played by Shin Ka-Hyun, one of my favorite Korean actors, who also provides the narration for the film.  This also provides some of the dark humor of the film as we see how things play out in a scene, while hearing a different version of events from Killa as he paints a picture that is more to his liking.  He shines in this role as his character conveys much through facial expressions and many times even while wearing sunglasses obscuring his eyes.  Shin Ka-Hyun seems to enjoy playing socially disadvantaged characters, having also played a mute character in Chan Wook-Park’s Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and a man with a hairlip in My Brother.  Both of those films are well worth checking out, in my opinion.  And if you haven’t seen Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance by now, I’m ashamed of you.

No Mercy For The Rude is confidently written and directed by Cheol-Hie Park, who’s only other IMDB credit is for writing the Korean horror film, Face. (I have never seen Face, and never felt any particular desire to.  Should I rectify this?) The film is stylishly shot, graphically violent at times, and very nice to look at.  It has a great sense of atmosphere and setting, with nice establishing shots that provide excellent visuals.  I love the film’s set design, while not as elaborate and candy colored as something like Japan’s Survive Style 5+, it still has some stunningly decorated restaurants and street scenes.  It feels like it’s post modern influences lay with Tarantino and at times the Coen Brothers, although it’s hard not to also think of Chan Wook-Park’s Vengeance trilogy because of Shin Ka-Hyun, as well as the setting.  The film starts out very much like an action comedy and it progresses becomes more and more dramatic while still maintaining it’s sense of dark comedy.  Even at the tensest of moments, viewers will find themselves chuckling at little moments.  The pacing of the film is excellent, never making you feel like it is dragging.  Which is a nice change for me, as I often feel Korean films tend to be too long. (Although I usually can’t identify the segments that I would cut from them to make those films run more smoothly. Go figure.)

But what I feel really sets this film apart are the performances of the actors and the depth of the characters.  The characters are all well developed and have back stories to explain their motivations and overall feel like real people.  For example, all of the different men that are work as assassins with Killa are only assassins because they failed or were forced out of their original lines of work.  One is a martial arts instructor who couldn’t make ends meet, and another particularly likable character is a former ballet dancer with a knee injury which forced him to give up the art he loved.  Killa himself would be a matador or poet if he had his way, but circumstances have lead him to becoming an assassin. (The one chance that we get to see some of his poetry is sure to explain why that didn’t work out very well for him.)  The level of character development in the film helped me care about the characters more than I typically do in a film.  When things start going wrong, I was more committed to the characters and their situation than I usually am, which ultimately raises my opinion of the film.

As well as covering the ever popular theme of revenge, most evident in the results of the botched assassination mentioned earlier, the film also touches on themes of personal identity, self worth, and acceptance.  Killa is too embarrassed to talk and isn’t well educated, but dresses in all black, carries knives, wears sunglasses at night, and puts on the persona of a enigmatic bad ass.  Sometimes this works for him and people are impressed by his presence, and other times he is ridiculed for it.  One could take this theme even further and say that by Killa’s decision to only kill those he considers to be rude and bad people that he is trying to justify his actions and maintain his personal identity as what he considers to be a good person, despite being a murderer for hire.  Other characters in the film face similar struggles as they try to keep their flaws from showing and act like they are more than they are, much as people in real life often do.  This really adds a nice element to the film, in my opinion, and makes it a bit more than it’s relatively simple premise would have you believe.

I stumbled on this film basically by accident as I was going through Shin Ka Hyun’s films trying to see what I had missed of his.  I am surprised that not many people seem to have seen or heard of it at all.  Maybe because 2006 was a good year for Korean films it just got lost in the shuffle. (City of Violence, The Host, Kim Ki Duk’s Time, Puzzle, Righteous Ties, I’m A Cyborg But That’s Okay, and Arang all released that year as well.)  I haven’t been able to dig up much information on the topic beyond that it was released on August 24th, 2006 on 52 screens in South Korea and took in a total of $904,802 through 2007.  (By comparison, the BIG film that year was The Host, taking in a total of $13,019,740 through 2007. But that’s hardly a comparison since roughly 25% of South Korea’s population reportedly went to theaters to see The Host.)

I found this film really enjoyable, and think that people who may have enjoyed A Bittersweet Life, The Chaser, or Korean action and thriller films in general should check it out.  I think this is the kind of film that might work as a good “conversion film” to use on friends who claim to not like foreign films, as it has a distinct look and flavor that should appeal to fans of Tarantino and his followers. Sadly, it’s currently unavailable in Region 1, which is a shame as I think it’d be a relatively successful film for American audiences, but can be found at and on eBay inexpensively.  I truly hope that those who read this review do try to see it and let me know what you think.

Review by Wil of In Nervous Convulsion