The City of Violence (South Korea, 2006)

Tung Tae-soo (actor/stuntman Jeong Du-hung), a detective in Seoul, returns to his hometown for the funeral of Ho Wang-jae, one of four friends from his youth. Wang-jae, a former criminal who’d cleaned up his act, had apparently been knifed by some punks he’d chased from his bar.

At the funeral, Tae-soo is reunited with his remaining three friends. Sukhwan (director Ryoo Seung-wan) is a small time criminal and a great fighter. Donghwan is Sukhwan’s weak-willed older brother. Finally there’s Pil-ho (Lee Beom-su), the local front man for gangsters building a casino in the town and a loan shark on his own. He attempts to overcome with ruthless ambition what he lacks in physical stature.

Determined to make the punks pay, Tae-soo and Sukhwan unearth evidence that the murder was something more than a simple knifing. They go on a bone-crunching, head-splitting quest for personal justice in a series of increasingly outrageous set pieces.

Ryoo Seung-wan, who previously directed Crying Fist, has here put together a testosterone fueled Tae Kwon Do slug-fest. Though individuals have fought their way through hordes of opponents in such fare as Sword of Doom (1966), Oldboy (2003), and myriad others, Ryoo has kept it fresh, doubled our pleasure , and doubled our fun, with the destructive duo of Jeong Du-hung and himself.

This review first appeared in slightly different form in my column “Trash Taken Seriously” in Asian Cult Cinema magazine #56, the fall 2007 issue. At that time I gave The City of Violence a 3.5 out of 4 star rating, highly recommended, which still remands valid today.

The City of Violence will be shown at the Film Society of New York’s Walter Reade Theater as part of the annual New York Asian Film Festival on Wednesday, July 13 at 3:30 PM. Director and actor Ryoo Seung-Wan will be in attendance.

For more discussion of The City of Violence, check out the feature discussion in episode 12 of the VCinema Show.