“No Mercy for the Rude” has already caused a stir as a result of having been bought up by the Weinsteins for release in the West, a fact which although by no means guarantees that the film will actually see the light of day any time soon, at least marks it as a possible ‘next big thing’ for fans of Asian cinema. The film is the first from Park Chul Hee, who had previously worked with other directors such as Lee Jang Ho and Jang Sun Woo, and had written the ghost thriller “Face”. “No Mercy for the Rude” is an assured and confident debut, and clearly indicates that Park is a talent to watch.
The plot revolves around the oddly, yet aptly named Killa (Shin Ha Kyun, “Save the Green Planet!”), a hitman whose tongue is too short, a disability which has left him too embarrassed to speak, and who is knocking off targets with a knife to the heart in order to save up money for an operation. Deciding only to kill the titular rude of society (i.e. those who deserve it), Killa gradually draws closer to his goal, though finds his relatively peaceful existence shattered by his involvement with bar girl She (Yoon Ji Hye) and a young boy who falls into his care by default. After a botched killing sees him hunted by vicious gangsters, and with the police sniffing around his trail, Killa desperately tries to keep his eyes on the prize as his life spirals violently out of control.
From the start, “No Mercy for the Rude” recalls Park Chan Wook’s “Oldboy”, with director Park showing the same eye for quirky details and using a similar voice-over style. However, although the two films are likely to be compared, and certainly share the same nihilistic tone, “No Mercy for the Rude” is less of a cinematic puzzle, and more of an eccentric character study, and is if anything even more cynical in its view of the world than the other film.
As well as exposing hypocrisy in a variety of forms, with all of Killa’s victims being outwardly respectable but morally monstrous people, Park also explores issues of self image and self worth in interesting fashion through the ways in which the various assassins see themselves and justify their actions. This adds a welcome layer of depth, and the viewer warms to Killa as Park gradually fleshes him out beyond the expected ironic quips of his narration, with aspects which seem initially like gimmicks, such as his seeing himself variously as a bullfighter, swordsman and surgeon, quickly taking on a more telling, and indeed tragic air. As such, although the narrative itself is relatively predictable, with a happy or conventional ending never really being in the cards, the film works well as an unconventional character study, and effectively transcends the expectations of the genre.
As well as being filled with bloody violence and surprisingly explicit sex, “No Mercy for the Rude” is actually very funny, with Park managing to achieve a perfect balance of dark humour. Much of this is drawn from a great sense of the absurd, especially in terms of the bizarre yet cosy domestic situation in which Killa is forced into and in the eccentric personalities which populate the film, such as his ballet dancing best friend, who uses his skills to turn his killings into graceful works of art.
Thankfully, as with Killa himself, all of the characters are well written, and all act as far more than wacky stereotypes included for off-kilter effect, with each being given their own sad backstory and motivation. This helps further to provide an effective emotional core, making the film poignant in a way which gradually creeps up on the viewer and which almost belies its brash, coolly amoral exterior.
Whilst Park’s direction is impressive, being controlled and fast moving, it is arguably this melancholy and vaguely poetic heart which is the film’s greatest strength, and which elevates it from being yet another flashy attempt to replicate the success of “Oldboy”. Providing both style and substance, “No Mercy for the Rude” engages on many levels, and emerges as one of the best Korean films of the last few years, and if unlikely to achieve the same international acclaim or high profile of Park Chan Wook’s classic, at least deserves to find its niche with fans.
Cheol-hie Park (director) / Cheol-hie Park (screenplay)
CAST: Ha-kyun Shin …. Killa
Ji-hye Yun …. She
Su-hee Go ….
Ye-rin Han ….
San Kang ….