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July 01, 2015

For the Emperor

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Hwangjereul Wihayeo
Park Sang-jun - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

A small army of hooded thugs gather in the corridor of a building. The lights are off. The only illumination is from flashlights going in multiple directions. There's a gang war with men knifing each other. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on, but the flashing lights give the scene a kinetic quality. Sometimes the pleasure of genre films is just doing enough to make it stand out from other films.

While not specifically recalling other films, there is even a moment when the mob connected attorney declares that he needs some popcorn in anticipation of another plot twist coming up.

The original Korean title, according to Wikipedia, refers to the name of the loan company that the characters work for, Emperor Capital. Behind the fancy office building, and gentlemen wearing coats and ties, is a loan shark operation, one that will see you beaten and blood if debts are not paid in a timely manner.

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Hwan, a formerly promising young baseball player, is having a terrible season. Making matters worse, he's busted in a gambling raid and has additionally been revealed to have been involved in fixing games. His own indebtedness is causes him to be attacked by a gang who collects money. Hwan ability to take on the gang brings him to the attention of Emperor Capital's CEO. Hwan works his way up the ladder of the organization, also gaining the attention of a glamorous prostitute known as Madame Cha, and the real head of Emperor Capital, an older gangster who works behind the scenes. The basis for the film is a comic book by Kim Seong-Dong. It is also the second film directed by Park Sang-jun. And in some ways the story follows a familiar pattern of the rise of a young gangster, and the power struggles that take place within organized crime.

The lights of Busan are seen from a distance, and appear glittery and golden. The film could be said to be about Hwan seduced by what he sees - money, power, respect, sex. It may be too obvious to have Madame Cha working out of a bar called Temptation. Park Sang-jun is also less than subtle with several shots angled in a way to help emphasize the breasts of actress Lee Tae-im. Hwan and Madame Cha get together, but it is later that one has to ask who seduced whom? Lee Min-ki as Hwan and Lee Tae-im are in the kind of scene that Hollywood might have made forty years ago - hot, nude, with bodies tangled. Not exactly "Last Tango in Busan", but viewers on this side of the globe might forget this is, for South Korean audiences, a mainstream movie.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 1, 2015 08:38 AM