City of Violence (The)
R1 - America - Genius Products / Dragon Dynasty
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (26th September 2007).
The Film

Director Seung-wan Ryoo has carved himself an impressive resume over the last few years exciting cinemagoers with fast and hard action mixed with slick dramatic flair, entries into the action genre such as "Arahan" (2004) and the impressive "Crying Fist" (2005) have proven Ryoo as a force to be reckoned with in Korean cinema earning both critical praise and box-office numbers to boot. This time he tries his hand at the revenge genre recently re-popularized in such stylish fashion with films like "Kill Bill Volume 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill Volume 2" (2004) as well as Tony Scott masterpiece of vengeance "Man on Fire" (2004), Ryoo delivers "The City of Violence", a story that reunites Tae-su (Doo-hong Jung), Pil-ho (Beom-su Lee), Dong-hwan (Seok-yong Jeong) and Seok-hwan (Seung-wan Ryoo), childhood friends over one of their closest friend Wang-jae's (Kil-Kang Ahn) funeral. Killed by street thugs operating under a higher power they vow to find his killer and exact revenge but what they discover tears them apart.
The film's plot is rather rudimentary, in fact in most revenge films the plot is not the driving force of the film and it's often very simple. The driving force are the steps taken to exact the revenge and the impact of which the vengeance is exacted. This allows filmmakers to manipulate the pace and build up to what we all eventually expect, a full impact blood bath opera of death! "The City of Violence" delivers on that, taking the time to establish the friendships and allowing our protagonist the required screen time to find out who is responsible before the inevitable showdown commences in the film's final act. Mind you Ryoo also throws in a few scuffles and confrontations in the middle to keep you distracted and suitably entertained.
The downside however is that the film lacks originality in almost every respect, when looking at other films in the genre, for example "Man on Fire" Tony Scott put his own unique style into that film creating a heightened state of awareness with the visuals, and when referring to Quentin Tarantino much is talked about in terms of his influences and how they seep their way into his films, Asian cinema is a prime suspect. The "Kill Bill" series borrows a lot from Hong Kong, Japanese and even European influences primarily the spaghetti western but despite these influences he still manages to make the films his own with the use of the trademarked cool dialogue he infuses. Ryoo seems to have borrowed heavily from Tarantino's already heavily influenced "Kill Bill". In fact the style, pace, rhythm and fight scenes are eerily similar including the final fight sequence which appears almost identical to the house of leaves showdown in the first "Kill Bill" film. The film's score is also reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns and the composer seems to have taken a page out of Ennio Morricone's book. While the similarities are striking and hard to avoid "The City of Violence" does stand on it's own as an exciting slice of Korean action, top marks to the many gifted stunt people and fight chorographers that made this film enjoyable to watch, additionally Ryoo handles the drama equally well. These attributes are considerably enough to consider it marked by Ryoo's own style.
For fans of action films you'll find plenty here to gush over, the fight scenes are exciting and over-the-top and the sequences burst at the seams with a powerful and exhilarating sense of violence. "The City of Violence" is worth checking out if you're into these types of films, and I'm certainly interested enough to see what else Ryoo offers action fans next.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic transfer is a decent effort, sharpness was never really going to be achieved considering the film was shot in Super 16mm and then blown up to 35mm as a result the image has prominent grain throughout. This is even more evident in the many night scenes and the image tends to appear a bit noisy amid the black levels. On the other hand colors generally hold up well with natural skin tones and the print is relatively clean displaying no dirt or damage.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included, a Korean DTS 5.1 (half bit-rate), a Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as an English Dolby Digital 5.1 dub. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its Korean DTS track. Unlike the image the audio is exceptional, with clear and distortion free dialogue and a suitable ambient mix that allows viewers total impressiveness but the highlight is the track's depth and range going to the more aggressive and punchy sounds during the film's many fight scenes with the score making effective use of the full surround space. This soundtrack is excellent and matches the film's action-packed tone.
Optional subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish. The English subtitles are easy to read and I could not spot any spelling or grammatical errors although a few times they flashed a bit too fast onscreen and I had to rewind to see what was said.

Extras

DISC ONE:
The main extra on this disc is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director and star Seung-wan Ryoo which is presented in Korean with English subtitles. The filmmaker comments on his intention to make a western influenced film, he comments on the influences like Scorsese and Peckinpah as well as commenting on setting up the film's story and how music is used to mark different stages in the film. Other areas he talks about include the dynamic camera techniques used in the film and how keeping the camera moving created an energy that helped with the overall action elements. He talks about his favorite themes, the characters and what he attempted to do in each scene as well as the various techniques utilized for the action sequences and staging the fight scenes, plus the difficulty in directing a film in which he also appears in as one of the co-stars among other things. Overall it's a very informative track that covers a lot of ground.

Also on this disc is a trailer gallery that features:
- Original teaser trailer which runs for 1 minute 30 seconds.
- Original Korean theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds.
- U.S. promotional trailer which runs for 1 minute 41 seconds.

Following that is a blooper reel that runs for 2 minutes 43 seconds and includes a series of missed cues, flubbed lines, cast laughing in takes and also getting hurt during some stunt fighting.

Rounding out the extras on this disc are some start-up bonus trailers for:
- "Hard Boiled: Ultimate Edition" which runs for 2 minutes 11 seconds.
- "Crime Story: Special Collector's Edition" which runs for 2 minutes 22 seconds.
- "The Infernal Affairs Trilogy" which runs for 18 seconds.

DISC TWO:
The second disc houses most of the extras and is split into three sections, 'Pre-Production', 'Production' and 'Post-Production'.

Pre-production:
First up in this section is "The Evolution of Action" a featurette which runs for 12 minutes 20 seconds and takes a look at the director's style, the use of wires in his films and when they are useful, the differences between shooting one-on-one fights versus a mob fight scene, the importance of space in which the fight takes place and taking advantage of it. The director also talks about whether shooting master shots is important in action films and also takes a look at the editing style and manipulating footage in post to help achieve a sense of intensity or elegance in the fight scene as well as dynamic camera and lighting work and how that impacts a sequence.

"Creating Emotive Action with Action Director & Star Doo-hong Jung" is a featurette that runs for 8 minutes 37 seconds and takes a closer look at the martial arts director that helped create the action scenes in the film, Doo-hung is a stuntman and actor that appears in the film and worked closely with the director and takes us through the style and techniques used to create the fight scenes and their effort in attempting to create something visually interesting and impacting.

"The City of Violence: Development & Pre-production" is another featurette which runs for 9 minutes 45 seconds and focuses on the development of the idea and wanting to make a film with everything the director has always wanted, the clip looks at the film's limited budget, influences, action sequences that try to match or better some of the Hong Kong films the director was influenced and about achieving the most from a small budget.

Following that is "The Art of War: Conceptual Designs" featurette which runs for 6 minutes 35 seconds and takes a look at the production design of the sets including the four sections to the building in which the final fight takes place in. The production designer comments on creating four uniquely different sets that transition our main characters from one stage to the next until they reach the VIP room where they have their final confrontation.

Finally "Battle Plans: Technical Tests & Pre-training" is a featurette which runs for 6 minutes 15 seconds and takes a look at the pre-shooting tests the filmmaker undertook in deciding whether to shoot on HD or on Super 16mm and it turns out that Super 16mm had all the properties that they were looking for plus is was attainable on their budget.

Production:
The first extra in this section is "Performance Management: Interviews with the Cast of The City of Violence" a featurette that runs for 11 minutes 14 seconds and sees the cast talk about their characters and motivations as well as reflect on the key scenes from the film and comment on their favorite moments, each character is very unique and that is what is ultimately explored in this clip.

Next up is the extensive "Blow By Blow: A Behind-the-scenes Exploration of the Action scenes from The City of Violence" a featurette that runs for 35 minutes 5 seconds and takes a detailed examination of the key fight sequences in this film including a look at the training. The sequences looked at here include the river fight with the younger characters, the back alley fight, the police station sequence, the play ground sequence, the teen mob fight scene, the front yard fight scene, the bridge, the confined rooms and finally the VIP octagon shaped final room fight.

Another extensive clip follows entitled "Two Against The Rest: The Making of The City of Violence" a featurette that runs for 47 minutes 45 seconds and takes a look at the genesis of the project and to create an independent feel to the film and managing an action film on a low-budget which was quite hard considering the sets required for the shoot. There is some repetition here in regards to the director's influences. The clip also looks at the involvement of the Seoul Action School and using unknown actors as well as the evolution of action in films. An interesting aspect of this clip focuses on the filmmaker's collaboration with Doo-hong Jung among other things.

Next up is "A Walk on the Wild Side" a featurette running 42 minutes 30 seconds and takes a look at the development of the action scenes with the use of stunt players from the Seoul Action School as we meet a few of the students and their training background and look at the performance of these often dangerous fight scenes and stunts.

Also included is "Council of War: A Commentary on the Action Sequences with Action Director & Star Doo-hong Jung" a featurette that runs for 16 minutes 39 seconds, this clip is basically a shorter re-cap version of the "Blow by Blow" clip as Doo-hung takes a look at a few fight scenes and lends his thoughts on them.

Post-Production:
A series of deleted & alternate scenes are included with optional audio commentary by the film's director Seung-wan Ryoo as he comments on why the scenes were omitted from the final cut. These scenes can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' function. The scenes included are:
- "From Beyond the Grave" runs for 45 seconds, while looking at Wang-jae's chalk outline Tae-su sees him in a vision.
- "Exit Strategy" runs for 51 seconds, Pil-ho tells his men to keep an eye out on Tae-su.
- "Wake Up Call" runs for 1 minute 35 seconds, Tae-su asks Mi-ran about whether its true Wang-jae cleaned up his act.
- "Under Surveillance" runs for 35 seconds, Tae-su and Seok-hwan are under watch by Pil-ho's men who report back to him.
- "Small Talk, Big Ideas" runs for 1 minute 28 seconds, Tae-su talks to Dong-hwan about cleaning up from the drugs.
- "Blood Work" runs for 52 seconds, Tae-su learns more about Pil-ho.
- "Stitched Up!" runs for 23 second, Tae-su stitches up his wound.
- "Take Two!" runs for 30 seconds and is additional footage from the teen mob fight.
- "Alternate Ending" runs for 1 minute 8 seconds and sees Mi-ran at the airport leaving everything behind.

Next up is "Behind the Scenes at the Venice Film Festival" featurette which runs for 3 minutes 48 seconds and is a brief clip of the press conference plus media appearances and attending the premiere.

Rounding out the extras is "Designer Action: The Development of the Artwork for The City of Violence" a featurette that runs for 3 minutes 55 seconds and takes a closer look at the design of the film's teaser and theatrical posters for the marketing campaign.

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in an amaray case that is housed in a cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: B+

 


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