Best known for his hit comedies “100 Days with Mr. Arrogant” and “Wedding Scandal”, Korean director Shin Dong Yeob tries something a little different with the violent thriller “Days of Wrath”. Revolving around a vicious enmity between two men stemming from high school bullying, the film stars Joo Sang Wook (“Good Doctor”) and rapper/actor Yang Dong Geun (“Fighter in the Wind”) in the lead roles, shifting between aggressor and victim as things progress and escalate.
The film begins with Jun Seok being bullied mercilessly at school by unpleasant rich kid Chang Sik and his gang, who spend their days making his life an absolute misery, culminating in a horrific incident which leaves him traumatised. Fast forward 15 years, and Jun Seok (now played by Joo Sang Wook) is a troubled young man, struggling to find a proper job and to escape from the pain of his past. One day, he runs into Chang Sik (Yang Dong Geun), now living the high life as a corporate executive, engaged to be married to beautiful doctor Ji Hee (Lee Tae Yim, “S.I.U.”). Understandably upset at the difference in their fortunes, Jun Seok decides to take revenge, and sets about ruining his former tormentor’s life in every way possible, pushing both of them over the edge in the process.
Though its plot might sound pretty familiar, what makes “Days of Wrath” more interesting is the fact that it plays out from the perspective of the attacker, almost in the manner of a “Cape Fear” in reverse. Also somewhat against the grain is the way that Shin Dong Yeob, who co-scripted as well as directed, avoids the easy route of wish fulfilment violent revenge, instead having Jun Seok taking a more believable route and never becoming the kind of vigilante anti-hero that might have been expected. Even then, his schemes aren’t particularly Machiavellian, relying instead upon Chang Sik’s fairly obvious flaws and weaknesses, and this similarly adds an air of welcome gritty realism.
Though essentially obvious as to where it’s going, the film has a few effective twists along the way, and Shin manages to keep things fast moving and gripping in cat and mouse fashion, frequently blurring and switching the balance of power between its antagonists. Unsurprisingly, things do get violent and bloody, Jun Seok being on the receiving end of many a beating, and the film lives up to the hard edge required by its subject matter.
The knock-on effect of this is that the film is a dark and grim affair, without any clear-cut likeable characters – though Jun Seok is sympathetic due to the suffering he endured as a child, he’s quite obviously got a few screws lose, and some viewers might feel uncomfortable about the level he takes his revenge to. While Chang Sik is certainly a monster, he’s a recognisably human one, and the way in which he slowly reverts to type throughout the course of the film is fascinating and painful to watch. This really is a film about hate, and though the two men have their different reasons, the result is ultimately the same, and as such viewers shouldn’t expect too much in the way of hope or rays of sunshine. The female cast really don’t come off too well at all, mainly being around in the name of collateral damage, and the film definitely has a cruel streak, Shin never shying away from hammering home the sheer venom of the battle between the men.
It’s hard to fault Shin Dong Yeob for having the courage of his convictions, and though depressing and implacably harsh, “Days of Wrath” is a superior revenge thriller that stands out from the crowd of similarly themed efforts from Korea. Shin has made a very successful shift from romantic comedy to brutality, and though not exactly fun viewing, it should go down well with fans of the form.
Sin Dong-yeop (director) / Sin Dong-yeop, Yoon Joon-hee (screenplay)
CAST: Yang Dong-geun