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In Focus: No Tears for the Dead

by HA Sung-tae   06.27.2014
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Director LEE Jeong-beom
Starring JANG Dong-gun, KIM Min-hee
Release Date June 4, 2014
 
Such a cruel fate it is for someone to compete against the reputation of his/her previous work. No Tears for the Dead filmmaker LEE Jeong-beom’s latest work in 4 years since his runaway hit The Man from Nowhere seems to be ridden with such dilemma. As another work marked as a ‘LEE Jeong-beom-esque action’ through its choice of the action genre, No Tears for the Dead casts JANG Dong-gun who fits right into the mold set by WON Bin in The Man from Nowhere, and reiterating the mixed tone of nihilism and genre-wise showmanship of its predecessor. 

Cold-blooded killer Gon played by JANG Dong-gun inadvertently ends up killing a little girl during a mission to eliminate his Korean target and becomes haunted with guilt and self-doubt. Assigned to clean up his ‘mess’ by killing Mo-gyeong played by KIM Min-hee, he leaves for Korea determined to make this the last mission he will be working on as a hired killer. But he finds himself hesitating during the course of following Mo-gyeong until he finally decides to go against the organization in order to save Mo-gyeong. The two eventually become a target to another group of hired killers who used to be Gon’s associates.

The emotional mood dominating No Tears for the Dead is a sense of sorrow. Gon who is supposed to be the ‘bad guy’ is a wounded soul who carries the childhood trauma of abandonment in a foreign country by his own mother. Life is not so kind to Mo-gyeong as well, as she suffers from the guilt of losing her child who followed her ex-husband to America and having to take care of her sick mother with Alzheimer’s disease. To make matters worse, the debt her late crime-involved ex-husband left her summons the dangerous man Gon towards her while throwing her into the middle of a life-threatening situation. The filmmaker exerts his ambition to explore the complex emotions spurred by the confrontation between Gon and Mo-gyeong, and spends much of the running time explaining why Mo-gyeong has to be at the center of things and the details of Gon and Mo-gyeong’s inner turmoil.

This is perhaps why most of the film’s full-fledged action scenes that take place in Korea emerge after the second half of the film. In other words, the film makes effort to focus on the characters’ emotions without losing its identity as an action film. There definitely seems to be pros and cons from reducing the portion of action scenes. By giving Mo-gyeong a significant role in the narrative of No Tears for the Dead, the emotional dimension of this film is much richer than The Man from Nowhere. On the other hand, unlike its predecessor which successfully grasped the audience’s attention with a series of airtight action sequences, this film is more laid back and loose. Nonetheless, the grandiose gunfight scenes are the key points of No Tears for the Dead. The gunfight action sequences set in a run-down apartment hints at a truly auteur-esque ambition reminiscent of the climax scene in The Good, The Bad, The Weird. In comparison to the stylish action scenes in The Man from Nowhere which made its mark in Korean action film history, this film falls slightly short. But if there is one aspect to make note of, it is actress KIM Min-hee who plays Mo-gyeong. KIM who has received critical acclaim for the subtle and sincere performances she presented through her characters in films such as the BYUN Young-joo’s Helpless and ROH Deok’s Very Ordinary Couple, she once again shines in No Tears for the Dead like KIM Sae-ron did in The Man from Nowhere. The distraught mother she plays is solid. The emotions she displays through the exhausted and grieving face of Mo-gyeong is more than convincing. Especially, in contrast to the rigid delivery of the main character played by JANG Dong-gun who fails to take the initiative of the film, KIM Min-hee’s performance leaves a deep resonance.

It took James Cameron 12 years to surpass the record set by Titanic with Avatar. It seems unlikely that No Tears for the Dead will become LEE Jeong-beom’s Avatar. Perhaps the results may have been different if the film had toned down on the tragic beauty Gon was in charge of, found the right rhythm in length and arrangement for the action sequences, and polished the flashback scenes that did not mesh well into the general narrative. No Tears for the Dead which was released in spotlight will have to settle with the fact that it reconfirmed the trend of Korean-style blockbusters with their use of star system, narrative uniqueness, and finding a balance between genre–based entertainment and auteuristic ambition.
 
By HA Sung-tae (Contributing Editor)

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