NOTE: Please be aware that this DVD is a Korean import and is coded for Region 3 DVD players. In order to view this DVD, you'll have to have either a Region 3 coded or Region Free DVD player. [Recommended Region Free Players] It will not play in standard Region 1 North American DVD players.
Ryoo Seung-wan, the man behind Crying Fist, returns to the action genre he's so well known for in his native South Korea with The City Of Violence, a fun and entertaining fight film that succeeds more on style than on substance but which entertains from start to finish.
The film begins when a detective named Jeong Tae-su (Jeong Du-hong) heads back to the small town where he grew up to attend the funeral of a man who he was close friends with during his years in high school. While roaming around his old stomping grounds he meets up with two other old friends, Ryoo Seok-hwan (played by director Ryoo Seung-wan) and Jang Pil-ho (Lee), both of who were in the same street gang as Jeong years ago. While some things have changed (Jeong is now a cop and Jang has grown from the goofy kid they made fun of to an angry bruiser) others have not (Ryoo still likes to get into fights) and the three do some catching up. While talking, the subject of the death of their mutual friend inevitably comes up and soon they're trying to figure out whether his involvement in a real estate deal got him murdered or not. The catch? Jang was the guy on the other side of the deal, and Ryoo and Jeong figure he might have had a hand in the killing.
Jeong and Ryoo soon find themselves having to try to prove that Jang is indeed the culprit, but unfortunately for them he's got a small army of thugs at his disposal, any of whom would be happy to stand up against the pair to defend their leader. It all builds up to the inevitable showdown that we all knew was coming from about the fifteen minute mark, but what a showdown it is.
While the beginning of the movie might make things seem a little more complicated than it really needs to by introducing a few too many characters too quickly and throwing in a flashback to the three main characters' high school days, the story here is actually very simple even if it asks the viewer to throw logic out the window (there are moments in here that are completely ridiculous and some of the main plot line is a little blurry at times). The fact that we figure out that Jang is involved very early on doesn't help things, in fact it takes a lot of the suspense out of the script, and how exactly the two protagonists finger his involvement in their mutual friend's death is never really made all that clear. These are some fairly obvious weaknesses in what is otherwise a fairly well constructed film and had they been corrected and had there been a little more detail put into the script (parts of it feel rushed) The City Of Violence could have been a great, serious action movie – instead it works better as a popcorn film, a movie you watch simply because you want to see some fight scenes.
So if the fight scenes are the real reason to watch the film, do they deliver? In spades! Though it takes a little while to get to the really meaty brawls and while realism doesn't seem to play much of a part in the way things turn out, if you want to see some ass kicking then this movie won't let you down. The fight choreography, handled by Jeong Du-hong himself, is quite good and the stunts are exciting and unique. At times the camera feels too involved in the action and pulling back from the scraps a bit would have given us a better look at things, the action set pieces here are really well done. Also worth noting is that there is a refreshing lack of computer enhancement used here (or if it is here it isn't as obvious as it is in a lot of action movies) – the fights have a human side to them that reminds one of action films from the seventies. This was likely on purpose as the film pays tribute to films like The Warriors, as well as to Italian Spaghetti Westerns (the music was definitely influenced by Morricone's work) which the film is almost structured like.
So while The City Of Violence is far from perfect, it does entertain and the last twenty-minutes or so when the finale starts bubbling are quite impressive. See this one for the action scenes and a few nice moments of humor and check your brain at the door. It could have been a classic but the scripting is just too weak for that to be the case, and instead it's style over substance.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks exceptionally good on this DVD release. Blacks are solid, colors are very well defined and flesh tones look lifelike and natural. Compression artifacts and edge enhancement are almost non-existent and there isn't a whole lot to complain about. There's plenty of both foreground and background detail present in the image from start to finish and color reproduction is dead on. There's a tiny hint of aliasing present in a few scenes and look for some mild shimmering on car grills, but other than that there aren't really any digital transfer issues worth. Print damage is almost completely non-existent (probably due to the fact that this was a straight digital conversion as the movie was shot on high end DV and not on film). The City Of Violence really does look excellent on this DVD.
Surround sound options are available in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a DTS 5.1 mix. The DTS mix is fantastic as it is very active but also properly balanced demonstrating distinct channel separation, clear dialogue, and great use of the rear channels for sound effects and background music (you'll really notice this during the fight scenes). The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has slightly less LFE in it (which is to be expected), but is also quite solid and the score sounds fantastic regardless of which option you choose. Optional subtitles are available in Korean and in English.
Extras one the first disc, aside from some stylish standard menu screens, an audio set-up menu, and chapter stops are limited to a commentary track with the director. Sadly, there are no English subtitles provided for this discussion.
The second disc contains a wealth of extra features and quite a bit of additional content, but unfortunately, as is the norm with Korean DVD releases, none of these supplements contain any English subtitles and are presented here in Korean language only. Here's a quick look at what this disc contains:
Two Men is an interview segment with Technical Action director Ryoo Seung Wan/Sentimental Action Director Jung Doo Hong.The Planning of The City of Violence contains some interesting behind the scenes footage while Interview with the Actors is, as you could probably gather, interviews with the stars of the film. AFeaturette about Cinematography is just that as is the aptly titled Art Direction Featurette and the Interview with Action Director Jung Doo Hong.
Making Of Documentary: While the dialogue here won't affect anyone who doesn't speak Korean, this featurette, which clocks in at over a half an hour in length, does contain some interesting behind the scenes footage and is worth checking out for those who appreciate such things, particularly if you want to see how the fight scenes were put together or want to get a better feel for how these scenes were directed (35:02).
Deleted and Alternate Scenes with Director's Commentary: There are nine scenes here in total, but without subtitles it is a little difficult to put them into context. None of them appear to be too significant, however. The Venice Film Festival Special is simply a clip containing some footage from the film's premiere at the 2006 Venice Film Festival in Italy.
Rounding out the extras on the second disc is the Promotion section which features a poster art gallery, a theatrical trailer for the film, a shorter teaser trailer, and a music video.
While not particularly deep or groundbreaking in anyway, The City Of Violence is an entertaining and stylish action movie that builds nicely towards a very satisfying conclusion. It's not a cerebral film, but it is tense and fast paced and fight fans will definitely enjoy the last half hour. The Korean two-disc special edition release looks and sounds fantastic and despite the fact that there aren't any English subtitles on any of the plentiful extra features, this release comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.