“Riot in a Gibang in 1724”, also known by the longer, though no less awkward moniker of “The Accidental Gangster and the Mistaken Courtesan” sees director Yeo Gyoon Dong trying something very different to his low budget road movie “Silk Shoes”. Despite its period setting, the film is a kinetic affair, fast paced and frantic, working street fights, comedy and romance together into a wildly entertaining mixture that manages to pull off the impressive feat of offering a fresh take on the usual historic gangster shenanigans.
Set in Korea in 1724, the film begins as lowly street brawler Chun Doong (actor Lee Jung Jae, making his first appearance since the 2005 hit “Typhoon”) spots gorgeous courtesan Seol Ji (Kim Ok Bin, “Dasepo Naughty Girls”) during a fight. After a misunderstanding, she ends up not at the high class establishment she was meant for, but at his grandmother’s shabby bar, where the two instantly strike up a rapport of sorts. Sadly, she is soon sent back to her original destination, run by vicious though camp local gang boss Man Deuk (Kim Suk Hoon, “Tube”). Through a wacky series of circumstances, Chun Doong becomes the leader of a rival gang, and uses his newfound status to try and win her back, with his incompetent actions leading to an all out turf war that engulfs the whole neighbourhood.
It takes only a few seconds to realise that “Riot in a Gibang in 1724” is a rather unique proposition, combining the period setting with flashy modern visuals. Yeo’s direction is highly stylised to say the least, and the technical trickery, fast editing and flashes of CGI initially seem a little jarring, as does the distinctly contemporary soundtrack, which features electro, pop and hip hop music. However, the viewer soon gets used to this high energy, high octane approach, and it actually works wonders, breathing excitement and vitality into the proceedings and giving the form a much needed shot of adrenalin. Gimmicks aside, the film is generally a good looking affair, being both colourful and suitably gritty, with Yeo working in plenty of cartoonish touches, very much in the style of Stephen Chow’s “Kung Fu Hustle”, which it certainly resembles. Although the plot is straightforward, it makes for a rousing underdog story, with the central relationship between Chun Doong and Seol Ji being surprisingly endearing. This is mainly due to Lee Jung Jae’s excellent performance, and he effectively carries the film with his dogged determination and reluctant but fitting rise to claim the mantle of gang boss.
The laughs come thick and fast, with lots of slapstick pratfalls and sight gags, and although as usual, when a film adopts a quick fire approach like this a few get lost in the mix, the overall humour hit rate is impressive. The straight-faced delivery certainly helps, and the film effectively pokes fun at the form and period dramas in general in frequently hilarious fashion. Whilst a number of the jokes are a little groan-worthy, the film shows a real sense of creativity and imagination, with a colourful supporting cast and bizarre villains.
The film also delivers in terms of action, with lots of martial arts and street brawling, most of it over the top and boisterous. The choreography is solid, with a few oddball touches to keep the viewer entertained, and Yeo throws in fight scenes with enough frequency to ensure that the pace never drops. Things do get somewhat more bloody and violent towards the end when the plot turns serious, and this adds a welcome visceral edge that helps the film progress from its early sillier scenes. The final battle itself is worth a mention, being a unique, CGI enhanced clash of the titans which really stands out and is both stylish and hard hitting.
This scene quite neatly sums up the appeal of “Riot in a Gibang in 1724” and demonstrates exactly why it works so well, with its modern approach giving it a very different appeal and transforms what could have simply been yet another period set gangster tale into something far more fresh and entertaining. Certain to be enjoyed by viewers looking for a fast paced slice of action comedy, it shows that there is still life in the genre, at least for those directors brave enough to shake things up a little.
Yeo Gyoon-dong (director) / Lee Hwa-seong (screenplay)
CAST: Lee Jeong-jae, Kim Seok-hoon, Kim Ok-bin, Baek Do-bin, Yeo Gyoon-dong, Lee Won-jong