The Showdown: Berlin Review
Director-writer Park Hoon-jung' film is more a psychological drama and character study of archetypes than a hard-hitting action film.
BERLIN (Market) Two aristocratic army officers and a peasant defector are trapped in a caged- animal fight-to-the-death in a deserted tavern in The Showdown, a period action-drama about male bonding and male rivalry -- a theme Koreans love and do well.
Director-writer Park Hoon-jung's trained eye for striking visuals lends the brutal subject stark beauty. Initially drawing one into the protagonists' love-hate relationship with ample suspense, the film throws in action scenes at regular intervals, but contrary to its title, they don't build to one climactic, definitive showdown.
More a psychological drama and character study of archetypes than a hard-hitting action film, Showdown may find ancillary distribution abroad by highlighting director Park's credentials as the writer for top-notch thrillers I Saw the Devil and The Unjust and the fact that it is produced by the makers of The Chaser.
In the 11th year of the Joseon Dynasty, best friends Hun-myung (Park Hee-soon) and his aid Do-young (Jin Goo) are sent on a military expedition to Manchuria. They become the only survivors. When Do-young collapses from injury, Hun-myung confesses that he was the one who betrayed Do-young's father to a rival clan causing his family's downfall. Then Do-young revives, but doesn't let on whether he overheard the secret.
The first half hour is a polished exercise in suspense as the two men trek through the snow to take refuge in a deserted tavern, which they share uneasily with portly defector Du-soo (Ko Chang-seok). The scenario resembles the set-up of King Hu's martial art masterpiece Dragon Inn, where a few characters engage in psychological warfare and acrobatic combat in confined space for survival.
Well-timed flashbacks reveal the complex causes of low-born Hun-myung's subtle change from gratitude to grudge toward Do-young and his family despite growing up under their wing.
The flashbacks are shot in splendid colors and gloriously lit like Dutch oil paintings to accentuate the opulent lifestyle the protagonists were once used to. They provide maximum contrast to the monotone, snow-carpeted Manchurian landscape and the murky, menacing interiors of the inn.
The lenser's recurrent use of tableaux-like extreme close-ups of gashed, blood-stained, frost-bitten faces that seem to burst out of the frame has effectively threatening impact.
The earlier tightly-coiled tension begins to come loose by two thirds of the duration, as the stake-out becomes static, and the outbreak of fights gets repetitive utilizing the same space. The two leads have exhausted their range of expressions, while Ko starts to overdo his loud-mouthed buffoon act but he hits the nail on the head when he shouts "are you going to take all day to kill him?"
Venue: Berlin Film Festival, Market
Production company: Bidangil Pictures
Cast: Park Hee-soon, Jin Goo, Ko Chang-seok.
Director-screenwriter: Park Hoon-jung
Produc-ers: Kim Su-jin, Yun In-beom
Executive producers: Kim Hyun- woo, Choi Pyung-ho
Co-executive producers: Seo Bum-seok, Shin Kang-young, Jeon Yoon-ku
Director of Photography: Kim Young-ho
No rating, 106 minutes