masterly master lee

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

The Terrorists 테러리스트 1995

mlm terrorisatA gangster movie with Choi Min-su (Choe Minsu 최민수)? Master Lee is paying attention. Choi Min-su is one of the few truly believable gangsters out there in movie land. Not as believable as the Master, of course, but that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it now? It starts off well… really fake-looking camera shot of police trainees storming through a wood, screaming their lungs out (and screaming “we’re underpaid extra’s… no f*#&$ing way we’re gonna sound convincing to you!). O Suhyeon (Choi Min-su) is an ambitious young man (although he doesn’t look particularly young to Master Lee) who like his older brother O Sahyeon becomes a cop. So far, so good. Master Lee is even willing to look past the sentimental flashback (in sepia?!) to when the two orphaned brothers came to Seoul as young children, a Korean film score inflected Richard Clayderman-piano (yes, you know exactly what the Master means) tinkling away in the background. The master closed his eyes and thought of the other promises of the DVD cover: actors Yi Gyeongyeong 이경영 (who made the hard-to-find  1996 movie Gwicheondo 귀천도 about two Joseon warriors from 1800 who end up in contemporary Seoul; if you know where to find it, let the Master know!), Tokko Yeongjae 독고영재, Ho Junho 호준호 and Yeom Jeonga 염정아 (yes, herself in an early role).

mlm terroristThis is a 90s movie, alright. The haircuts, suits that have been cut too wide, that undefinable but instantly recognizable pale quality of the film. And then, when Master Lee was getting fed up with the 90s atmosphere he spots Oh Yoo-sung (O Yuseong 오유성)! His favourite movie gangster (one of his favourites at least)! As a bad, bad gangster with only one eye and a pony tail! About to face off with Choi Min-su! Master Lee put the DVD player on pause, ran to the fridge, got out a cold fried chicken (yes, the entire animal. No measly leg or wing for the Master) and a bottle of sparkling soda and sat down again. Tonight was going to be a good night after all (as good as nights get without kicking some gangster butt, that is).

O Suhyeon gets in trouble on his first assignment, killing a gangster (belonging to Oh Yoo-sung’s crew) who is trying to shoot him. Due to the corrupted nature of the judicial system, however, he ends up in court and is jailed for three years, while the public prosecutor (wonderfully maliciously played by Tokko Yeongjae who looks like a 60s movie star here) is in cahoots with gangster boss Oh Yoo-sung. At the same time, we’ve met Yeom Jeonga who plays a reporter and looks like an early 90s glossy magazine add. In the background Master Lee also spotted a very young-looking Ho Junho, wearing a bomber jack which made him look pregnant (no, don’t ask).

When Suhyeon is released from jail, he is even more morose than he used to be. He again immediately gets into trouble, which costs Ho Junho a leg (literally). Meanwhile his brother and the delectable Yeom Jeonga (miss Bang, the reporter) work together to get at the crime boss and the evil prosecutor who were responsible for Suhyeon ending up behind bars. In between hard looks, horrendous off-screen torture, very bad one-liners and macho utterances, a very standard and badly directed gangster flick unfolds. Here’ just a selection of bad quotes:

Just pretend we’re in a comedy. (miss Bang to Detective O after a plan disastrously folds)

They’ve gone. Shall we do something to them? (crime boss to corrupt prosecutor)

Mind your words! And that will be the day you die! (Choi Min-su to baddie. OK, OK, the actual Korean makes more sense but be honest, this English subtitle rocks)

And it gets worse. While hands are chopped off, miss Bang gets raped and his brother’s place gets ransacked, Suhyeon… well, he broods. Yup, the director chose to waste Choi Min-su’s talent and charisma to have him brooding for the entire first half of the movie. When finally Choi Min-su is allowed to say something true: “Fist is a better solution than the law,” there’s little more than 20 minutes of brooding and taekwondo demonstration-style fight scenes to go. When Choi starts to kick Yoo’s but, it seems like the movie is gaining ground again, but then the victory music (think Eye of the Tiger, but then played by Status Quo and no vocals because the lead singer is throwing up backstage feeling existentially challenged by the song) starts up and Master Lee is regretting having finished his cold chicken watching this movie. And the movie wouldn’t be complete without a confrontation, steeped in sentimentality, between the two brothers, one a cop, the other a vigilante.

Directed by Kim Young-bin (Kim Yeongbin 김영빈), The Terrorists tries to be a good gangster flick that also criticizes the nouveau riche of the 90s: the prosecutors with shady connections, crime bosses becoming legitimate businessmen, real-estate developers who know more about beating up people than building houses. It tries, but despite the considerable presence of acting talent and charisma, the director isn’t up to it. It fails and it spoiled Master Lee’s cold chicken. And that always pisses him off.

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