Clementine (2004) Movie Review

In terms of Korean cinema, you’d call “Clementine” a B-movie. In any case, it’s certainly not a very good movie, and perhaps that has more to do with the hackneyed script than it does with the obnoxious soundtrack, or even the fact that they’re using a guy who is either in his late ’40s or early ’50s as the hero. Worst, our hero is supposed to be a Taekwondo champion, and soon becomes mired in illegal underground fighting matches in order to make ends meat. With a lot of luck you might be able to pull off this very tired genre clich’ with a young pup like Kane Shosugi (“Muscle Heat”), but definitely not with someone of star Jun Lee’s age.

“Clementine” stars late-’40s or early-’50s Jun Lee as Kim Seung-hyun, a South Korean Taekwondo champ who, as the film opens, is cheated out of a tournament win against an American competitor. Because the tournament (apparently for the World Champion of Taekwondo or some such) transpired in Las Vegas, those wacky Americans have rigged the fight. Meanwhile, at the very same moment back in Korea, Kim’s wife goes into labor and gives birth. The wife dies, leaving Kim to raise precocious SaRang by himself.

Eight years later, single dad Kim is kicked off the police department for using excessive force (he didn’t just beat up some gangsters, but when told to apologize, he beat them up again). As luck would have it, the gangsters’ boss was present at the last beat-down (the third, I believe); the boss, a short fellow with bad taste in glasses, is convinced Kim is his ticket to making some big bucks. And thus begins Kim’s journey in the world of illegal underground fights.

Of course we’re to assume Kim is regularly fighting in these “The only rule is there are no rule!” cage matches, even if we just see one such fight during one long hour. In any case, you may think that “Clementine” has more than enough plots and subplots to work through, but you’d be mistaken. For you see, director Du-yeong Kim (“Live or Die”) is operating under the mistaken belief that he’s ambitious, which explains why “Clementine” is chock full of subplots. And just when you think the film has finally spun all of its plot points, there’s another half dozen just waiting around the corner.

Are these neverending sub-stories at least interesting? Well, no. They’re silly and in some cases downright idiotic. Also, the script’s propensity for throwing the precious SaRang — with her toothless grin and slick ability to toss out zingers with a straight face — onscreen as often as possible reeks of overcompensation. Not content to just make us suffer from a bad case of Cute Kid Sugar Shock, the filmmakers even give the kid a Movie Disease! Completely shameless, you say? You bet!

The only real interesting thing about “Clementine” is the presence of second-billed Steven Seagal (“Belly of the Beast”). The Formerly Viable Action Star Known as Steven Seagal has about a 10-minute cameo in the film, including (and this is by no means exaggeration) 2 seconds of screentime in the movie’s first hour. Seagal returns (or is the correct phrasing “finally shows up”?) at the end to fight Kim in the illegal underground match to end all illegal underground matches. (Yes, the whole thing really is as overwhelmingly clich’d as it sounds.) It’s amusing to watch Seagal and his Aikido matching punches with the high-kicking Taekwondo trained Kim. It all leads to this conclusion: there is probably no two martial arts form that looks less convincing pitted against each other onscreen.

An argument could be made that “Clementine” is so bad that it’s good, although I wouldn’t put money on it. “Clementine” is an unnecessarily muddled mess, especially for a movie of its B-grade. As if to add insult to a gaping head wound, there’s barely any decent action for the action crowd, with much of the fisticuffs falling flat. The only decent action comes in the match between Kim and Seagal, but even that is mostly ruin by Seagal’s inability to convince anyone that he wasn’t blackmailed via some very, very dirty pictures to show up on set.

But if Cute Kid Sugar Shock is what you’re looking for, “Clementine” will have your cup runneth over. For an example of a movie with a heartfelt kid character that isn’t painfully pandering, try “Bad Santa”.

Du-yeong Kim (director) / Hye-rim Eun (screenplay)
CAST: Jun Lee …. Kim Seung-hyun
Steven Seagal …. Jack Miller

Buy Clementine on DVD