Beat (1997) Movie Review

Have you ever seen an Asian gangster movie? No? Well, have you ever seen any gangster movie? If the answer is Yes, then you know how this one will end because it’s simply a South Korean version of the very, very familiar “young tough rises through the criminal ranks through courage and brains and blood only to meet a bad end” storyline. It’s all been done before, and sometimes better, sometimes worst. “Beat” is not the worst of the lot, but it’s not the best of the lot by a long shot.

There are some things about “Beat” that lends itself to being liked. The movie is very fast-paced and moves through many years in the lives of a small group of intimate characters, so there are revelations, changes, and a constant sea of turmoil taking place. Nothing ever really stands still, like life itself. Things are always happening, the world is always changing, and you’ll never be bored.

That being said, “Beat” does little except not bore its viewer. For one, the story is tried and true and been done to death. In homage to its American counterparts, the director even namedrops Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”. So it’s no surprise that “Beat” doesn’t break any new grounds. In fact, the only thing it adds to the young-gangster-on-the-rise-only-to-be-doomed premise is the addition of the very South Korean tradition of taking the state college level entrance exam. One character, a friend of the female lead, does so poorly on the college entrance exam that instead of facing her parents, she flings herself in front of an oncoming train. The female lead, Romi, is so traumatize that she goes insane and has to be committed for a couple of years.

“Beat” is average at best, and the director only added to the mess by filming the action scenes in a kind of choppy, blurry style that makes seeing the individual actions almost impossible. Directors employ this method for two reasons, and only two reasons. 1) They’re aware of their actors’ (limited) capabilities and knows they can’t perform the scenes as written, so the directing “choice” is made to keep the scene’s weakness a secret and covered up; or 2) The director just made a very, very bad choice in the name of style and royally screwed the pooch. I tend to believe in the former explanation, since there are other violent scenes that don’t fall back on the blurry technique.

Oh wait, you want to know what happened in the movie?

Long story short: good guy can’t escape because the other good guy, his buddy, keeps pulling him back in. Besides that, add a pain-in-the-ass girlfriend who is as selfish as she is childish, and we all know our hero is going to have a bad time near the end.

As I said, it’s all been done before, but at least it’s very entertaining this go-round.

Sung-su Kim (director) / Young-man Huh (screenplay)
CAST: Woo-sung Jung …. Min
So-young Ko …. Romi
Chang Jung Lim …. Whan

Buy Beat on DVD