Directed by: Lee Jeong-beom; Runtime: 116 minutes
The Man From Nowhere announced the arrival of South Korean director Lee Jeong-beom in a very big way, telling the straightforward yet affective story of a mysteriously lethal man who thwarts a trafficking ring for the sake of his friendship with a young child. Its simplicity and clear emotional streak made for an inspired vehicle for brutal vengeance-fueled violence, complimented by sober photography and razor-sharp editing that transform it into quite an action-thriller. Like other follow-ups, Lee Jeong-beom attempts to achieve similar things with No Tears for the Dead that its predecessor did right, while also expanding on and improving areas that drew some criticism. Unfortunately, a weaker film emerges in the director's third entry that stumbles in devising a more complex plot and elaborate action, despite still delivering a handful of finely-crafted action sequences and an involving moral conflict in the mind of a rugged anti-hero.
No Tears for the Dead settles into a downhearted tone right away, revealing how a trained assassin, Gon -- played by Tae Guk Gi and The Promise star Jang Dong-gun -- accidentally kills a young girl who gets in the line of fire at one of his hits. Wracked with guilt, Gon spirals into a drunken stupor, swearing off the business while the other repercussions of his targets fall into place. In response some time later, his boss sends him on a new mission: to kill the young girl's mother, Mogyeong (Kim Min-hee), a risk management specialist at an investment firm in South Korea who has no knowledge of her criminal husband's wrongdoings. She, too, has surrendered to her grief following the young girl's death, drinking and drugging herself into a complacent state so she might continue her business dealings and care for her senile mother. Once in Korea, Gon's posed with deciding whether to pull the trigger and tie up the remaining loose ends, or to show empathy for the mother of the girl he murdered and risk being killed by his organizational brothers, spearheaded by Chaoz (Brian Tee).
The organized-crime scheme that Lee Jeong-beom orchestrates in No Tears for the Dead ends up being one of those erratic suspenseful plots that both has a lot going on and isn't really about much of anything, involving investments and conspiracies that tie to Mogyeong and her husband in abstract, off-screen ways. It exists to inflate greedy crime bosses and put marks on heads for deviance from the plan, which is all that's really needed to care about when confronted with the culpability of the little girl's death. That looming melancholy element becomes the only story thrust that matters among the clutter, fueling Gon's moral conflict as he returns to his country of origin and copes with the idea of killing the girl's mother. Sure, the emotional streak hits some predictably heavy-handed notes, yet it revolves around an engaging psychological element that adds a touch of richness to the film, carrying over into Gon's own experiences as an abandoned boy in the States while partially relating to Mogyeong's maternal grief.
No Tears for the Dead gets a little preoccupied with those perfunctory moving parts, enduring prolonged gaps without the brand of action that hallmarked Lee Jeong-beom's thrilling initial foray in the genre. After sparking some excitement with a hard-hitting opening involving silenced bullets in a closed-off portion of a nightclub, the film seems content in giving the focal grief and gangster posturing plenty of time to settle in uninterrupted by bloodshed, which would've been fine had the plot been engaging enough to exist without the anticipation of violence to come. Despite suitable performances from most of the cast, ranging from Jang Dong-gun's bloodshot despair to rising star Brian Tee's charismatic rivalry as an almost-brother to Gon, the plot's only strong enough to get one invested in the antihero's motivation to potentially buck his orders and protect the defenseless. Gon's indecisiveness in whether he'll execute Mogyeong builds mild suspense towards a foreseeable outcome, but not enough to linger for an hour before getting to the good stuff.
Once the action does eventually kick into gear, No Tears for the Dead becomes suitably thrilling and briskly-paced as each set-piece aptly escalates the stakes, packing serious firepower as Gon takes on a cluster of other trained, armed-to-the-teeth assassins through the streets of Seoul. True to form, Lee Jeong-beom exerts an undeniable grasp on orchestrating gritty action, telegraphing vigorous gunfire, crushed cars, and spilling blood through shrewdly-composed photography from I Saw The Devil's cinematographer Lee Mo-gae. Admittedly, though, he also relies on a broader flurries of missed bullets and unlikely physical rebounds from seemingly invincible foes than that of The Man From Nowhere, eschewing the opportunity to exert a stronger grasp on realism for the sake of spectacle. That might matter less as the momentum pushes Gon closer to absolution for his wrongs through volatile situations, justified with raw gravitas in a cleverly fitting finale that affirms the director's action chops, but those burdensome machinations and one-dimensional characters lead No Tears for the Dead to miss its mark.
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Posted by Thomas Spurlin on 3/06/2015