Dynamite Man: Busan Review

"Dynamite Man"
A refreshingly verbose departure from the conventions of the Korean revenge flick.

Korean director Jeong Hyu-kwon returns with an atmospheric revenge thriller starring Jeong Do-won.

Despite being saddled with an utterly dreadful title and some subtitles that could and should be a little more polished particularly for international release, Dynamite Man is a refreshingly verbose departure from the conventions of the Korean revenge thriller. Imperfect though it may be, the film has a mesmerizing quality to it that makes it infinitely watchable regardless of the film’s deliberate pace, and it should slot in nicely wherever artistic crime thrillers similar to it have worked in the past, for both distributors and on the festival circuit.

The story begins with Jeok-san (Jeong Do-won) visiting with his dying brother in the hospital. The two had been involved with a gangster, Pil-seong (the hyperbolic Park Seong-taek), and when he discovered their plan to leave the criminal underworld behind and relocate to Japan they were forced to face his wrath at their betrayal.

In black and white flashbacks the brothers are beaten to within an inch of their lives, and the younger Heuk-san (Park Geon-gyu) is set on fire. Jeok-san survives, and begins a campaign of vengeance that destroys Pil-seong’s gang. He does so by systematically tracking down the key perpetrators, knocking them out and strapping dynamite to them before waking them up and setting a timer for them to see.

Dynamite Man is not an easy film to watch. In addition to the violence inherent in the story and the sub-genre, director Jeong Hyu-kwon plays with both audience expectation and structure just enough to stand out in a crowded field. Essentially told in three acts -- the set-up and early hospital visit, a conversation between Jeok-san and a priest from the brothers’ miserable childhood and the grand finale -- Dynamite Man emphasizes words and ideas over action and allows the story to build almost literally.

With the exception of the few sequences where Jeok-san takes his revenge, cinematographer Kim Hyo-won’s camera remains still, and allows Jeong and production designer Park Yong-jae to build grimy, grim claustrophobic spaces for extended conversations between the characters that range from morality, good and evil, the nature of the human soul, family and home to name a few. It’s a bold decision to mix long scenes of dialogue in a genre exercise like this but the expiriment by and large pays off. 

Jeok-san -- played with stoic intensity by relative unknown Jeong -- sits passively while he chats with his friend and priest about what good his mission will serve, and that unfolds in (seemingly) one 30-minute shot. Those quiet, static moments will try the patience of anyone expecting major pyrotechnics from a film with the word “dynamite” in the title. But for those willing to listen to the words being spoken there’s a gentle power in Jeong’s images that makes it worth the effort.

Busan International Film Festival, Korean Cinema Today
Cast: Jeong Do-won, Park Geon-gyu, Park Seong-taek
Director: Jeong Hyu-kwon
101 minutes