Live or Die (2003) Movie Review

Anyone looking for an excellent reason to die young should immediately rush out and buy this waste of a DVD. Although billed as an action/comedy, is has little action and the only laughs are unintentional ones caused by the poor subtitles. Worse yet, the film figures the legacy of Bruce Lee into the plot, a ghastly crime against a modern legend.

“Dying or Live” is the story of So-ryong Lee (Seung-Hyeon Kim), who works as a delivery boy for a local restaurant. Lanky, athletic and likeable, he aspires to be Bruce Lee, to whose altar he worships nightly on his rooftop. So-ryong meets Jang Ok-ran (Jin-yeong Kwak), a young woman who works as a shampoo girl and dreams of becoming a famous hairstylist, and is not about to let her alarming lack of talent get in the way. When conmen looking for amateur porn stars dupe Ok-ran into believing she has a chance of becoming a famous movie star, So-ryong decides to take action and defend her honor in a way that his idol would approve.

There really aren’t enough bad things you could say about director Du-yeong Kim and his co-writer Beom-shik Lee. The fact that they made a film that’s sheer torture to sit through is bad enough, but it seems they didn’t even bother to put much effort into it. The plot is predictable, filled with cardboard stereotypes and occasionally seems to shift from one scene to the next with no discernable logic. “Dying or Live” also seems to suffer from a padding problem, as numerous scenes seem unnecessary and just appear to be included to give the film a 90-minute running time. But cinematographers In-ha Ham and Seong-seob Lee deserve their share of the blame as well. They give the film a washed out and colorless look, as well as frequently make poor choices in camera angles. Their mistakes make an already terrible film unbearable.

As the lead, actor Seung-Hyeon Kim (“At Full Speed”) does as well as humanly possible with what he’s been given to work with. He’s able to make the character almost endearing, an amazing feat considering he’s a bit bizarre. Jin-yeong Kwak also does what she can with the role of the film’s love interest, although she does tend to overdo her character’s naivet’ and over eagerness to succeed. It’s funny to note that midway through the film, both characters occasionally wear despairing looks, as if realizing that the film is 99% sows ear with no silk purse in sight.

While the rest of the cast does nothing to stand out, the actor portraying the owner of the hair salon does manage to set the gay rights movement back by about 50 years with his flamboyantly stupid performance.

The main issue with this film is not that it’s awful, it’s that so little effort seemed to have been put into it. “Dying or Live” had the potential to be a great action film or a terrific romantic comedy. But instead of taking the time to craft a well-made movie, it seems as if the filmmakers just patched something together and released it, hoping for the best and a fast buck at the box office. And dragging Bruce Lee into this mess is simply a cheap way to try to use an admirable figure to legitimize their mess. Fans of Lee should just rent his films and allow this disaster to fade into obscurity.

Du-yeong Kim (director) / Du-yeong Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Seung-Hyeon Kim …. Lee So-ryong
Jin-yeong Kwak …. Jang Ok-ran