Kundo: Age of Rampant AKA Kundo: Min-ran-eui si-dae [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - South Korea - KD Media
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (7th October 2015).
The Film

"Kundo: Age of Rampant" AKA Kundo: Min-ran-eui si-dae (2014)

Taking place in 1862 in the Joseon period of Korea in which there was social and economic unrest in the country, the aristocracy ruled the land and the poor who tended the land were highly separated by class structure. At a governor’s home on his 60th birthday party while the rich are wining and dining, a group of peddlers come to residence asking for food, but it is only a cover to infiltrate the governor’s home to kidnap him. They reveal themselves as the Chusul Clan, there to recite the official’s wrongdoings and to distribute his wealth to the common people. Of this band of vigilantes are the leader Dae-ho (played by Lee Sung-min),the vicious monk Ddaeng-choo (played by Lee Geung-young), the former aristocrat Tae-gi (played by Cho Jin-woong), the skilled female archer Ma-hyang (played by Yun Ji-hye), the powerhouse Chun-bo (played by Ma Dong-seok), the handsome mute Geum-san (played by Kim Jae-young) and their loyal followers. The men and women ride from town to town seeking justice with their martial arts skills and wits.

Jo-yoon (played by Kang Dong-wan)is the son of the aristocrat Lord Jo Won-suk (played by Song Young-chang who amassed his fortune by exploiting the people in the land. He was a bastard child, being born to a concubine and not to Lord Jo’s wife. Jo-yoon was to continue the bloodline and name, but once a younger brother was born to Lord Jo and his wife, it causes jealousy and hatred between the brothers. But after the death of the younger brother, it becomes evident that Jo-yoon is to inherit the land, although there is a caveat…

During the Joseon period, the lowest of the low class was a butcher. Dolmuchi (played by Ha Jung-woo) is a butcher that sells meat to Lord Jo’s residence, and is suddenly given a chance to meet the Lord’s son Jo-yoon who gives an unusual special task: to kill a woman in exchange for 20 silver pieces which is enough to start a new life. After entering the woman’s room, she awakens and he can’t do it seeing the pregnant and frightened woman. He returns the money to Jo-yoon’s people but to erase any evidence of the attempted murder, the men go to Dolmuchi’s home and burn it to the ground, killing his mother (played by Kim Hae-suk)and younger sister Gok-ji (played by Han Ye-ri), with only Dolmuchi surviving. He returns to the residence of Jo-yoon to seek revenge, but is beaten badly by Jo-yoon’s incredible martial arts skills. It is revealed that the woman that Jo-yoon ordered the hit on was actually his sister in law, carrying the baby of his late half-brother. If the baby happens to be born a boy, Jo-yoon would lose his position as the rightful leading heir to the land. Dolmuchi is rescued by the Chusul Clan and brought to their sanctuary, to give him a second chance at life. Will Dolmuchi be able to improve his skills enough to confront and take down Jo-yoon, or will his anger and frustration get the better of him?

Like a Korean “Robin Hood” tale, in which the vigilantes distribute the wealth of the rich and corrupt to the poor people, but with more decapitations, “Kundo: Age of Rampant” is an exciting period action epic from South Korea. One element that truly separates “Kundo” from many other martial arts films is the influence of Italian films, rather than Chinese films or Korean films. The soundtrack uses electric guitars, harmonicas, horns, and strings more common with an Ennio Morricone scored western film. Although the 2008 Korean film “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” also was influenced by Italian westerns, the film took place during World War II, rather than in the Joseon period. Some may feel the sound design and the visual style doesn’t fit with the time period setting since there were no such things as electric guitars at the time, but if you think about it the late 1800’s setting of the American West did not have an electric guitar invented yet either. It is just a matter of audiences becoming used to the distorted guitar sound equaling the western setting due to the impact of the Italian films worldwide such as “Once Upon a Time in the West” or “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. Not just the music, but the use of zooms, extreme closeups, and the vast brown desert shots are homages to the Italian Western genre as well.

Compared to Chinese and Hong Kong cinema, Korean martial arts films are not as well-known and not as highly profiled. Sure there are Korean martial arts such as Taekwondo and Hapkido but Korea has not had a Korean martial arts superstar in the ranks of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen from Hong Kong and China, Sonny Chiba from Japan, or Tony Jaa from Thailand. But regardless of not having a major star, the action scenes are quite phenomenal. Swordplay scenes, archery scenes, brawls, and one on one fights use a multitude of techniques, from crane shots to Steadicam shots, wirework, slowmotion and framerate changes, both the actors and the technicians put together one of the most exciting martial arts sequences in Korean cinema.

Director Yoon Jong-bin previously directed the military drama “The Unforgiven” (2005), the nightlife of gigolos “Beastie Boys” (2008), and the highly successful gangster film “Nameless Gangster” (2012). Putting his foot down on various genres, “Kundo” marks the first time he has tackled the martial arts genre as well as a period drama. In terms of scope, the details in period costumes, the extravagant sets and the finely choreographed fights proved to be completely different from his previous films.

Although absolutely exciting for its action and interest in the revenge storyline, the fatal flaw of the story is the amount of times that the protagonist and the antagonist face off. The beauty of revenge films is the anticipation of the “hero” meeting the “villain” finally after grueling setbacks (“Oldboy”, The “Kill Bill” series), intense training (“Drunken Master”, The original “Star Wars” trilogy), or years of building up to finding the person the hero is looking for (“The Princess Bride”, “Once Upon a Time in the West”). The number of times that Dolmuchi and Jo-yoon face off in battle is ridiculous and to spoil a bit, and the ending “death” is not a satisfying one either. There really should be 2 confrontations: One in which the “hero” is scarred and defeated, and one to strike revenge. But with multiple confrontations it makes great fight scenes, but it does get tiring seeing the hero get beaten badly again and again, like a video game character using his “continue” option too many times.

“Kundo” was released on July 23rd 2014 in South Korea, becoming the all-time highest opening day box office in ticket sales, but only to have its record beaten by “Admiral: The Roaring Currents” the following weekend.

Note: This is a region ALL Blu-ray, which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide.

Video

KD Media presents the film in 1080p in the original theatrical 2.40:1 ratio in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The transfer is what you would expect from a new film, looking pretty much perfect. Colors look great with the browns of the desert scenes, the whites of the aristocrats, and the greens in the bamboo forests look beautiful, as well as the spattering of red blood here and there.

Audio

The sole Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is dynamic. The Ennio Morricone inspired soundtrack is vibrant through the surrounds, the fight scenes and battle scenes sound incredible. Dialogue and narration is easy to hear with no problems to speak of. The lossless soundtrack definitely gives a workout for the speakers.

There are optional English and Korean subtitles for the main feature. The font is white for both. The English subtitles are error free, and even give some additional info not present in the Korean. For example an explanation of butchers being the lowest of the low class is captioned in English, since it is not a commonly known fact for international audiences but for the average Korean, it is a basic part of their history.

Extras

Audio commentary by director Yoon Jong-bin, co-producer Han Jae-Duk, actors Ha Jung-woo, Kang Dong-won, Yun Ji-hye
In Korean with no subtitles

"Making Of: Part 1" featurette (14:09)
A basic overview of the production, with interviews of the cast and crew and behind the scenes footage covering sets, costumes, and story details.
In 1080p, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

"Making Of: Part 2" featurette (11:41)
This featurette covers the different characters, with interviews and behind the scenes footage.
In 1080p, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

"Making Of: Part 3" featurette (11:07)
The fight choreography and styles are presented here.
In 1080p, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

"Pre-Viz" featurette (2:11)
2 scenes in pre-viz form, with the final scene playing in a picture-in-picture in the right corner of the frame.
In 1080p, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

"VIP Premiere" featurette (5:52)
The red carpet premiere in Seoul is presented.
In 1080p, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

"Production Announcement" featurette (4:48)
Various members of the crew and cast at a press conference.
In 1080p, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

Trailer (1:50)
In 1080p, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

So the biggest drawback for English speakers is the lack of English subtitles on the bonus features, which is common for many Asian releases. The only other English friendly Blu-ray release currently available as of this writing is the US Blu-ray, which only has the trailer as an extra.

Packaging

Packaged in a clear keep case housed in a slipcase, the Blu-ray also comes with an autographed postcard. My copy has a photo of Ma-hyang, although it is unclear whether other copies have the same or different postcards.

Overall

“Kundo: Age of Rampant” is a twist on the Korean period action film, but unfortunately the story starts to wear a bit thin toward the middle. But the action scenes are absolutely incredible and the South Korean Blu-ray provides great audio and video along with very good English subtitles for the main feature.

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

 


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