Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- Distracting more often than it's clever and sorely lacking in compelling leads, "Spare," the debut film by director Lee Seong-Han isn't nearly as much fun as its inspiration. The filmmaker's bio explains how Lee was heavily influenced by Hong Kong action in his youth, and it shows. However, Lee has yet to master the tight, high-octane tone of HK's best from its glory days.

Slickly produced and well photographed, "Spare" could play to undemanding audiences in Korea and Japan because of the Japanese-tinged subplot. Beyond that, the film's success will depend on genre festivals and DVD.

Gwang-Tae (Lim Jun-Il) is young, athletically gifted and in debt to the tune of 80 million won to local casino boss Myung-Soo (Kim Soo-Hyeon). Desperate to get off the hook, he calls his best friend and compulsive gambler Gil-Do (Jung Woo) for help. As it happens, a Japanese crime boss has fallen victim to an assassination attempt, and his son, Sato (Koga Mitzuki, whose hair is never once out of place) is willing to go to any lengths to get him a life-saving liver transplant (evidently, stabbings can be hard on the liver). Gil-Do sets up a sale for part of Gwang-Tae's liver and promptly pockets the cash payout. When Sato arrives in Seoul to collect his bio-cargo, he winds up assisting Gwang-Tae in his quest for revenge.

There are moments in "Spare" where the frantic editing, frenetic cinematography, and frenzied action choreography take over and one forgets how nonsensical the plot really is. It also has Kim turning in an amusingly exasperated performance as the put-upon Myung-Soo, as well as the not inconsiderable presence of Kago going for it. On a handful of occasions, Lee and co-writer Choi Hae-Cheul deflate some of the hoarier gangster conventions to great effect.

But the few high points are overpowered by a sense of preciousness, weak lead characters and a pair of distracting offscreen judges that serve as a peanut gallery. The unseen observers throw out some random self-conscious comments about the genre, and really only serve to point out just how rote the film is. The film ends with a suggestion there could be a sequel (probably set in Tokyo), which seems like a long shot if it hews closely to the territory "Spare" has settled.

A Film the Days production
Director: Lee Seong-Han
Screenwriter: Choi Hae-Chul, Lee Seong-Han
Director of photography: Kim Yeong Cheul
Music: Kim Seung-Gi
Gwang-Tae: Lim Jun-Il
Lee Gil-Do: Jung Woo
Sato: Koga Mitzuki
Myung-Soo: Kim Soo-Hyeon
Jong-Il: Yang Ki-Won

Running time -- 106 minutes
No MPAA rating