'Kundo: Age of the Rampant': Film Review

Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment
There's plenty of stirring action in this spaghetti western-influenced epic

This Korean period drama concerns a gang of bandits who steal from the rich and give to the poor

That its heroes literally ride off into the sunset at the conclusion marks one of the many Western movie elements in Kundo: Age of the Rampant. Yoon Jong-bin’s Korean epic is set during the mid-19th century Josean period and concerns the exploits of a Robin Hood-style gang of bandits who steal from the corrupt rich and give to the impoverished, famine-plagued peasants. It broke box-office records in its native country upon its release last month; now receiving a U.S. theatrical release in several major cities, this entertaining actioner should well please Asian audiences even if its excessive length will probably inhibit cross-over success.

The film’s hero, played by the charismatic Ha Jung-woo, is Dolchi, a butcher who runs afoul of the evil nobleman Jo Yoon (Kang Dong-won) and is nearly put to death before being rescued at the last minute by the Kundo, a colorful band of characters, including one known only as the “Vicious Monk,” who promptly enlist him in their ranks. Even as the group goes about their violent, socially adjusting ways, Dolchi plots his revenge against the arrogant aristocrat.

Combining epic period melodrama with spaghetti western-style tropes — the stirring musical score by Cho Young-wuk clearly owes a debt to Ennio Morricone — the film features an array of elaborately staged fight sequences featuring a combination of high-flying martial arts, stirring swordplay and old-fashioned gun battles.

The convoluted plotting, profusion of characters and heavy doses of explanatory narration may prove off-putting for some less attentive viewers. But the director infuses the fast-proceedings with enough visual flair — inspired by filmmakers ranging from Kurosawa to Leone to yes, Tarantino — to provide ample compensation. The large cast dives into their highly physical roles with gusto while clearly relishing their colorful dialogue, which includes such memorable lines as “I’ll cook your liver and have a drink tonight” and “Attain your f---ing Buddhahood.” The latter are certainly words to live by.

Production: Moonlight Film, Showbox/Mediaplex

Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Gang Gong-won, Lee Sung-min, Cho Jin-woong, Ma Dong-seok, Yoon Ji-hye, Jung Man-sik

Director: Yoon Jong-bin

Screenwriter: Jeon Cheol-hong

Producers: Yoon Jong-bin, You Jeong-hun

Executive producer: You Jeong-hun

Director of photography: Choi Chan-min

Editors: Kim Sang-bum, Kim Jae-bum

Production designer: Elhen Park

Costume designer: Cho Sang-kyung

Composer: Cho Young-wuk

No rating, 137 minutes