This gleefully blood-splattered Korean gangster film with an unlikely romantic subplot looks for most of its running time like the sort of cult-friendly genre discovery one could watch and then crow over before an inevitable Hollywood remake comes out. That said, the ending is so relentlessly bleak that a faithful remake would be unlikely – while an unfaithful one with a happier conclusion would be absurd given the ruthless logic of writer-director Park Hoon-jung’s plotting.
The initiating setup is that after something really bad happens, moody pretty-boy gangster Tae-Gu (Eom Tae-goo) must hide out on a resort island in off-season before he is ultimately resettled in Vladivostok, Russia. En route he stays with a grumpy arms dealer, a former gangster himself, and that man’s troubled, taciturn niece Jae-Yeon (Jeon Yeo-been). But it soon transpires that there’s hidden depths in both Jae-Yeon and Tae-Gu, who after the de rigueur initial verbal sparring become unlikely friends – and maybe potential soul mates, especially when they end up bonding over their shared affection for mulhoe, a spicy raw fish soup which plays a significant role in the story. In fact, there are a lot of meals throughout, discussions of who is hungry and a key plot-furthering sit-down among gangsters in a restaurant that involves one of those huge rotating trivets typical of Korean restaurants so that people can share dishes more easily.
This is not a film to watch on an empty stomach, both because the food looks great and those of a delicate disposition might, like one of the gangsters, feel a little nauseous after the gory bits. Leisurely pacing rather draws it all out a bit, but there’s real inventiveness to the way Park wrong-foots the viewer and handles the operatic displays of gunfire and death – and the leads are rather charming.