masterly master lee

a home for forgotten and famous korean pulp, its heroes, its heroines, and its pulpeteers

Charisma 카리스마 1997 review

vlcsnap-88488.pngWell, after watching Charisma, there can be only one conclusion. Superheroes do exist and they are very hard to beat, although they seem to be very sentimental and vulnerable to rather pathetic music. From the director who brought us Clementine, this 1997 gangster flick is memorable for two things. One, the number of bad gangsters defeated by the good gangster hero is astonishing; Charisma probably beats the number of baddies who got their collective asses kicked in all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies together. And two, the soundtrack must be one of the most slimy, sentimental and over-the-top soundtracks ever for a gangster movie. Charisma also deserves a special mention for starring two of the best names in Korean cinema: Han Gug-il 한국일 (yes, that also reads as 한국 일 or Korea One!) and his love interest Yi Hayan 이하얀 (Hayan meaning white, which nicely refers to the white dog at the beginning of the movie, suggesting that the movie is all about loyalty and such).

charisma.jpgThe intro sequence is a bit of a hurdle, very badly edited and the overlaid sound effects sound like they belong in a ‘70’s cartoon. The fighting is good, though. Although hardly realistic, the number of airborne maneuvers is kept to a minimum. The acting is wonderfully wooden; you can see where they got the baseball bats to pummel the opposition into submission. And the story. Well, let’s see. Long Hair is a retired fighter (Han Gug-il), called back to Seoul to protect his love interest Su-ah (Yi Hayan), who is the younger sister of gangster hyeongnim Pak Dongmin (Lee Dongjun, also of Clementine glory) who happens to be a childhood friend of Long Hair. Long Hair used to be a champion boxer, but got emotionally hurt very badly when Pak Dongmin killed a man, but Long Hair took the blame and went to prison for it.

vlcsnap-81981.pngPak’s organization is under attack from the bad gangsters (Pak being a good gangster). After a classic night club fight when the bad gangsters invade and kick some royal ass, the bad gangsters do some very bad things to Pak and family. Long Hair cuts his hair and gets revenge. BTW, this was kind of confusing, because until now, Long Hair’s face had been effectively obscured. It took me a few minutes to realize that Long Hair now had short hair. Short Hair formerly known as Long Hair kidnaps the scantily clad überbaddie‘s daughter (who is a wonderfully female baddie smoking cigars while listening to liturgy in Latin set to a house beat!- Yes, this is a nineties movie), kicks ass in a way that would embarrass Chuck Norris (roundhouse kicks and left hooks flying all over the place) and gets to a showdown with the überbaddie. Before the ultimate fight, some excruciatingly sentimentalist remarks are exchanged (“I could only exist because of her love”) and then the serious kicking of asses takes off. After knocking out or slicing up about 50 minions of the opposition, he gets to überbaddie. And that’s where the movie should end, right? Wrong, I guess, because there is another überbaddie, there is a kidnapped kid involved and, well, just watch it yourself. Let me just say that the bus fight is fun.

With Charisma you got yourself a classic Korean gangster drama with good action scenes, wooden melodrama that would put most shinp’a to shame and a superhero in the person of Long Hair. He is just impossible to beat. The budget can’t have been too low, either; the number of extra’s is astounding and filming took place in some of Seoul’s more recognizable landmarks. Master Lee’s suggestion is that you turn off the mushy soundtrack and provide the sounds of fists and feet hitting body parts yourself. But honest pulp it is.


  Juan H wrote @

Hey, I really enjoyed the review. Could you review more korean martial arts films from the 90’s and earlier? Living in the United States, its next to impossible for me to get a hold of any of these, and I can never get enough of a taekwondo fix.

  masterlymasterlee wrote @

We’ll do our best to review as many martial arts movie from Korea as possible! Thanks for the comment.

yours masterfully,


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