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October 21, 2014

Kundo: Age of the Rampant

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Kundo: Min-ran-eui Si-dae
Yoon Jung-bin - 2014
WellGo USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

I would think that if anyone were to listen to the soundtrack to Kundo without knowledge of the film, hearing it cold for the first time, they would assume that the music was from an unfamiliar Italian western, and the score, if not be Ennio Morricone, than someone under the influence of the maestro. The ghost of Sergio Leone is in the film as well, with the close-ups of eyes of men challenging each other, the shots of horsemen riding the barren plain, and the lone warrior who comes alone, with a huge, where the hell did that come from?, machine gun. While this South Korean film is not as overtly indebted to Leone as The Good, the Bad, the Weird, the influence of the Dollars trilogy is impossible to miss.

Taking place in 19th Century Korea, the fate of a region is primarily played out by two outsiders, a butcher (considered the lowest in the caste system of the time) against the illegitimate son of a former governor, who acts on behalf of his father in hopes of gaining official position and acknowledgment of his paternity. The son schemes to eliminate any future heirs, and finds ways to force the peasants to give up their land, becoming slaves for a chosen elite. The butcher is compelled by circumstances to take up with an army of thieves who live in a hidden, mountain community, planning to take revenge on the injustice of the local government.

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There are a couple of nice set pieces. In one, their is a fight between the government soldiers and the thieves at night. The illumination from a nearby fire and lighting provide a stroboscopic effect. The second is the final duel between the butcher and the former governor's son, done in a bamboo forest, with the trees cut down in the course of the fighting, providing both barriers and temporary platforms for each man. A chase through the bamboo forest unsurprisingly evokes memories of similar lateral tracking shots from Akira Kurosawa. Humor is provided by some very earthy dialogue, mostly provided by the band of thieves.

I think it worth pointing out that WellGo USA has significantly shortened the gap with the initial theatrical run of Kundo, last July, to its new US home video release. That short wait time for US viewers would be meaningless if Kundo wasn't worth watching, and not just a record setting box office hit in South Korea. Yoon tries to help the viewer with little freeze frame introductions to several of the characters, and there is some supplementary narration that provides historical context. Mostly, though, I would give credit to composer Jo Yeong-wook for providing the audio cues for the viewer, providing a musical shortcut to introduce the kick ass action, which needs to translation.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 21, 2014 05:37 AM