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.
Ha Yu's A Dirty Carnival is an interesting take on what is essentially a fairly standard and straight forward rise and fall gangster story. The central plot focuses on Byung-du (Jo In-seong who won a Best Actor prize at the 2006 South Korean Film Awards), a man fast approaching his thirtieth birthday who has, for the last few years of his adult life, been working for a thug named Sang-chul (Yoon Jae-Moon of Antarctic Journal). When he's not obliging his employer, Byung-du spends his time at home trying to help his mother, who is frail and of failing health, and his younger brother and sister. His father is long gone, leaving Byung-du having to fill his shoes while simultaneously working in the criminal underworld so that he can keep enough money coming in to support those who depend on him.
Things get complicated when Sang-chul's boss, President Hwang (Jeon Ho-jin of Crying Fist), gets into some hot water with a criminal prosecutor who is out to make life difficult for him. Feeling little allegiance to Sang-chul for the way that he's been treated by him, Byung-du offers to take him out of the picture for the boss man, figuring that if he's able to pull this off he'll earn himself some respect and maybe a big promotion. While all of this is going on, Byung-du's childhood friend, a wannabe filmmaker named Min-ho (Nam Gung-Min of Kim Ki-Duk's Bad Guy), wants Byung-du's help on his first feature production. If that weren't enough, by reconnecting with hisMin-ho he reunites with his high school sweetheart, Hyun-Ju (Lee Bo-Yeong).
So basically, A Dirty Carnival is a drama about the stress and fragility of relationships wrapped inside a gritty and violent gangster movie (the scene with the baseball bats will stick in your mind for a while as will the brawl near the finale!). This isn't the first time this has been tried and it's likely that it won't be the last but this movie does it right. If the movie is going to be marketed as a crime movie then to a certain extent it has to stick within the confines of the genre and this film definitely does that but what makes it more interesting is the way that the various relationships our hero is involved in intertwine with each other and with his occupation as a criminal on the rise. Scorcese has shown American audiences how well this can work with Goodfellas and Casino though A Dirty Carnival takes the focus of the film even further into the heart of how Byung-dyu's actions and reactions affect those around him and vice versa. The movie gets a little melodramatic in spots and at over two hours and fifteen minutes in length it does have a few slow spots but thankfully we've got Jo In-seong's excellent performance to keep us interested even when things aren't moving at a break neck speed. He's the perfect combination of caring and cool, intense and introspective and he brings a very human side to his character that suits the softer side of the story very well. That being said, he's also quite good at the 'tough guy' bits and pieces scattered throughout the film and this is quite in tune with how his character deals with the two very different sides of his life (those being family and career).
It's also interesting how Ha Yu shows us Byung-du's overtly ambitious nature. When he gets the chance to move up the ranks of the criminal empire he's been serving under for years, he jumps at it and once he starts moving in that direction, he soon finds he likes it. He gets a taste for power and wants more and what was initially done as a ways of helping to soothe the financial pains his family has been suffering from soon becomes a lot more selfish than that. Along the way we get to know both sides of his personality as we see him care for those he loves and dole out sadistic violence to those he sees as the competition. His actions finally culminate in a fall from grace, just as you'd expect, but it never feels forced and instead, like the lead performance, it suits the material and feels completely appropriate based on what the ending builds on in the narrative. A Dirty Carnival is a very dark film despite some touching moments, and those who want a happy ending all wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow are sure to come away from this one feeling in need of a hot bath, but if you like your crime to be gritty and you like your drama to be human, this film certainly works very well indeed.
The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks quite 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 and along roof tops, but other than that there aren't really any digital transfer issues worth. No complaints here.
A Dirty Carnival comes with a fairly aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix that makes great use of the rear channels during the action scenes but knows well enough to lay down for the quieter moments that pepper the film. Optional subtitles are provided in English (with a few odd typos here and there) and Korean for the feature only.
As is the norm with Korean DVDs, none of the supplements on this disc contain any English subtitles at all, which makes them pretty much impossible to evaluate if you don't speak the language. At any rate, disc one contains only the feature and an audio commentary from the director and some of the actors.
The bulk of the supplements are on the first disc, starting off with a rather generic looking forty-two minute long Making Of Documentary and a lengthy forty-minute collection of interviews. There is another fifteen-minute documentary here that covers how some of the action set pieces were put together as well as four short (three to ten minutes a piece) behind the scenes segments spotlighting some of the stunt work. Look for a handful of deleted scenes that you can watch with or without an optional commentary track from the director. Rounding out the extras are some outtakes, a theatrical trailer, footage from a photo shoot, a music video, and footage from a press screening. Animated menus and chapter stops are included and the two discs fit nicely inside a gatefold package that is housed inside a slipcase.
A refreshingly honest look at a man's voyage through the ranks of the mob and how it affects him and those around him, A Dirty Carnival is a nice mix of both style and substance. The presentation is great, though the extras, while plentiful, lack any English subtitles. 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.