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June 29, 2010

Puzzle

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Dodoiyuheui peurojekteu, peojeul
Kim Tae-kyung - 2006
Genius Products Region 1 DVD

At the time that I formally studied film history and theory, there was a linear sense of progression, from silent to sound films, black and white to color, squarish screen to panoramic screen, montage to deep focus to, um, rack focus? Into the current century, maybe it's time, at least for myself to rethink about film theory and history as it was taught back in the days when Robert Altman was king. It's not only a matter of reworking of various genres, but remakes, reboots and "re-imaginings". For myself, Puzzle might be of greater interest as part of a dialogue about film.

Kim Tae-kyung doesn't mind letting everyone know that his debut film was inspired by Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. The basic story about a gang of crooks, strangers to each other, and a robbery gone wrong, should be recognizable without a glance at the DVD supplements. Tarantino's film has arguably been something of a remake of Ringo Lam's City on Fire. What is of interest to me is how the different filmmakers take some of the same basic elements and make three very different films. So we have a Hollywood film, inspired by a Hong Kong film, inspiring a Korean film. Within the broader scope of film history, John Huston proved with his version of The Maltese Falcon that the third time with Dashiell Hammett's novel was the charm. Kim Morgan has put up the argument that Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho may have more than met the eye of many viewers. Likewise, Kim's movie has enough virtues of its own to merit consideration.

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Kim dives into the action from the first shots of a man lying dead on a warehouse floor, set on fire. The contents in a brief case are also burnt to a crisp, Following the robbery of the contents of a safe deposit box, four youngish men, and their female hostage, meet in the warehouse. The dead man is tentatively identified as the gang leader. The four men discuss their options regarding their next steps. There is an assumption that they are to wait for the unknown person who brought the five men together, and organized the robbery. The problem is that no one knows who exactly they are waiting for, or if they are being set up to be killed.

The most obvious redo of Tarantino is a scene recalling Steve Buscemi's complaint about being named Mr. Pink. All of Kim's five main characters go by pseudonyms, but there is a mildly comic scene where one of the guys complains about the name given to him on his passport. The characters in Kim's film are more introspective. There isn't the jauntiness of the opening scene of Reservoir Dogs with the gang walking together to a rock and roll beat. The puzzle of the title is the question regarding who the gang is working for in Kim's film. Flashbacks reveal how the five crooks are linked to each other. For the careful observer, the twist ending not entirely surprising.

Each of the five men has a flashback that is only partially revealing. What was surprising was to see clips that were filmed but not used, in one of the DVD supplements. The film, even the original Korean release, runs slightly more than a tidy ninety minutes. Further research has indicated that there is a three disc (!) Korean special edition DVD that possibly has this other footage. Kim and his cinematographer discusses the making of the film, but not the decision of scrapping what appears to be several finely set up pieces of action that give further details regarding the characters' outlaw lives. Kim plays with technique a couple of times, with dutch angles and a short multiple screen sequence. There is no question about the film being shortened either, as the film on the U.S. DVD has the same running time as the Korean version. The decision not to use this additional flashback footage seems more odd considering how frequently Korean gangster films run at the two hour mark or longer.

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Posted by peter at June 29, 2010 12:07 AM