masterly master lee

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

Run Away 런어웨이 1995 review

Oh yummy, a very early Kim Seongsu 김성수 movie! He’s the pulp master that brought us Musa (Musa: The Warrior) 무사, There Is No Sun 태양은 없다, and Beat 비트. And this one features as martial arts director the unsurpassed Jeong Duhong 정두홍.

Yi Donghui (Yi Byeongheon 이병헌), a handsome game designer, and Choe Miran (Kim Eunjeong 김은정), a pretty free-lance illustrator (who lives in an impossibly large loft), have a steamy one-night stand, after which they coincidentally witness a brutal murder. Donghui reports the murder, but the killers (who are suitably evil-looking and muscular) find him and Miran, so they run (Miran only wearing a flimsy dress and showing her white panty-clad, well-shaped and firm lower body constantly while running away: what was the director thinking? Never mind, the Master thinks he knows). This is the beginning of an excellent genre exercise: an innocent, attractive couple on the run from scary bad guys, initially not believed by the police, but when finally believed incompetently protected, on the run again, this time without being able to take refuge anywhere, so a final showdown with the baddies is inevitable. And that’s more or less how it plays out here. This movie has some very strong points though.

First, it’s a Kim Seongsu movie and Kim Seongsu is (inexplicably if you ask Master Lee) truly underestimated, while one of Korea’s most reliable and most excellent directors who always delivers. The Master wouldn’t be surprised if in a decennium or two, Kim Seongsu is appreciated for what he really is: a master of the genre movie to such an extent that his genre flicks transcend the genre (remember Beat?). It has been a while since Kim Seongsu has directed a movie, but any new project of his is eagerly awaited.

Second, it has a very good score which at times is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s classics. Couple that with Kim Seongsu’s excellent sense of timing and suspense and you have a movie that will not let you go until the last credit has rolled off the screen. The director even used zoom shots and hallucinatory scenes that remind one of the British master.

Third, it has a very young Yi Byeongheon and the (alas!) unknown Kim Eunjeong. OK, in the beginning their acting seems to have used inordinate amounts of Amazonian trees: their thespian exercises are that wooden. But after a while, they warm up to one another and to the scenario and they turn out to be a great screen couple, convincingly reluctant to trust one another and yet generous and caring enough to help and save each other’s ass when the need to do so arises. We know what happened to Yi Byeongheon, but the Master doesn’t understand why Kim Eunjeong never seems to have starred in a movie after this one (she was credited in Dharma Goes To Seoul 달마야 서울 가자 as the ‘woman in the subway’ for god’s sake!). Granted, she probably wasn’t the best actress of her generation, but not the worst either and she did have an inordinate amount of on-screen presence. She just sizzled, sizzled, sizzled on the screen while being chased by überbaddie Jang Sejin 장세진 (who gives a masterclass in ‘how to portray a screen villain’ here; the danger oozes from the screen whenever he appears in front of the camera), managing to wear the same flimsy dress while being shot at, kidnapped, slapped around, put in prison, hit with baseball bates, having sex, getting stuck in a hot elevator, taking a swim and being doused in gasoline. She  looks amazing and is never less than Yi Byeongheon (who can swing a mean lead pipe btw).

The cast is completed by some more convincing baddies, loyal friends that meet ugly ends and an alcoholic and violent cop played by the ever reliable Yi Gyeongyeong 이경영 who takes an instant dislike to our heroes, in his eyes two representatives of that bane of the 90s: young urban professionals, who are attractive and spent more on grooming their pubic hair than you on your rent.

Run Away is a very solid 90s movie as well. It confronts us with what was then seen as a potentially very dangerous place to be for South Korea’s youth: the club, playing house music and selling drugs. It is no surprise then that the main plot of the movie (next to the chase of course) is about drug dealers who have their headquarters in a club. More signs of the 90s can be found in the clothes of course and none more clearly so than in the outfit of Yi Byeongheon’s younger sister. Check out the purple! To keep the audience interested, the director throws in a scene in a 90s opium den with scantily clad female hard-bodies and house music playing.

The action is in safe hands with master martial arts director Jeong Duhong. The fights look good (even if the special effects are a bit too ketchuppy to the Master’s taste) and the physical threat emanating from the bad guys is palpable. There are some nice (understated) stunts in Run Away as well, making you realize how hard Jeong and consorts work on movies like this to make them convincing.

Run Away is a very pleasant surprise and a most excellent movie. The ending sequence is a bit out of whack, too long and Yi Byeongheon’s wounds and injuries take on mythical proportions (it also made the Master suspect that halfway through the script was rewritten and one of the characters belatedly added to the Dark Side), but in the extremely capable hands of Kim Seoungsu, this does not really matter. It pleases the Master to be able to crown this underestimated cinematic gem with the much-coveted title of ‘masterly pulp.’

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