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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » A Dirty Carnival
A Dirty Carnival
Genius Products // Unrated // May 20, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted June 17, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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If Coppola's original Godfather film was stripped of its immersive '40s essence and injected with some equally gripping martial arts chaos and modern day convolution, then Yoo Ha's A Dirty Carnival just might be the end result. That's a bizarre balance to strike, between gangster ascension politics and fight choreography; the HK mob war flick Election, though it impressed quite a few fans of the genre, never fully satisfied my tastes. A Dirty Carnival feels a lot like a cocktail between all the things I did appreciate about Election with the tightly-executed action sequences in another solid Korean mob flick, City of Violence. Except, there's so many more fluid performances, sharp humor, and enthralling battle sequences within Yoo Ha's film that it soars well into the heights of great mobster pieces.


The Film:




Of course, to have a title like A Dirty Carnival doesn't hurt, either. Right then and there, it paints an image in your head of the roundabout chaos to come, like a ferris wheel from hell, as it unfolds within the urban streets of Seoul.

The film concentrates intently on a bright young gangster, Byung-doo (In-Sung Zo), as he micromanages a small mob enforcement sub-sect within a much wider organization. Essentially, this means he's a small fish in the corporation who controls a bunch of equally smaller fish as they swim around in a small pond, otherwise known as "their turf" in the city. Byung-doo and his men are dirt poor; with barely enough cash to cover rent, the group starts to question their employment. Most of their misfortune comes from the repeated shafting of resources from their higher up, Sang-chul. After he snags the opportunity to shift bosses following an aggressive display of loyalty with an assassination, affairs begin to improve for the little fish.

Byung-doo, played masterfully by In-Sung Zo, captures the audience's attention, much in the same ways that other strong gangster leads have - with reserved, piercing intensity. Pacino's Michael Corleone did so in much the same fashion with subtle shifts in facial demeanor. In-Sung Zo's character helps to carry A Dirty Carnival between the scenes of complicated politics with his twitchy discomfort in dealing with outsiders to the organization. His blurring, strained levels of civility and walled inhibition with violence piece together a small-scale opus that stands on its own with the greats. Seeing the subtle intense shifts as he begins to swim with the "sharks" of the organization makes soaking in A Dirty Carnival an engrossing experience instead of just raw subjection to criminal rollercoaster momentum.




But what a handsome, solid crime tale A Dirty Carnival is. It chirps on the family aspects, the betrayal and the loyalty, that make for a grand yarn full of twists and turns. Greed and power make for the fuel behind Byung-doo and his gang's activities, as to be expected. But there's a sense of desperation behind their actions that gives their seminal rise to power a much more compelling energy than that of a story of pure hubris. That same desperation and wrought energy echoes into the fantastic battle sequences, ones that brim with natural intensity. Several of the gang wars scenes, like one in particular that takes place with metal bats flailing in the air above broken bones and muddy suits, methodically push the envelop on how amusing and entertaining such unabashed chaos can be. Writer / director Yoo Ha keeps his bearings on the parameters between aggressiveness and repulsion and rarely, if ever, crosses the line. Then, to our pleasure, he adds dashes of some extra flavor into the context; he spots A Dirty Carnival with saucy deadpan humor that keeps it bouncy and entertaining instead of stone-serious and tense at all times.

The only real kink in A Dirty Carnival's script lies in the unnatural element revolving around the Byung-doo's film director friend and his "research" for his film. I've struggled mentioning this until now, primarily because the Byung-doo / director dynamic is a significant part of the movie - and also one of A Dirty Carnival's few, unnecessary weaknesses. He reaches out to Byung-doo, saying that he needs to research "gangsters" for his gangster movie. It'd be one thing if he was conducting his interviews quietly, but the director makes it widely known that he's interviewing and researching these people. Byung-doo even goes so far as to go on the set of the film for consultation on his people's fighting style. Now, as the film develops, this mechanic becomes both more tangible and more integrated into the story as the surprises uncoil. It's a little hard to buy at the beginning, but A Dirty Carnival's cornucopia of narrative fluctuations and thematic tones are worth the effort to force down that glaring inconsistency.

Sure, it works on a modest budget without huge names behind their characters, but the amount of gravitas that Yoo Ha's film rustles up with its sharp tension and fantastic battle choreography takes those supposed hindrances and turns them into tools. It's a film that speaks of reciprocal dishonesty and the not-so-wide gap between desperation and aspiration as its core themes, all the while having an absolute blast conveying its points. I've seen a number of HK and Korean triad / mobster flicks, and A Dirty Carnival, a genre tour de force, stands out as one of my favorites from the lot. Director Yoo Ha has broken out with a martial arts crime flick radiating with enough charisma and attitude to power a small city.


The DVD:




Genius Entertainment brings up A Dirty Carnival in a standard keepcase presentation that, much like the releases for Black House and Typhoon, comes with nice coverart and a replicated slipcover.

The Video

As with their other recent Korean transfers rooted from CJ Entertainment, A Dirty Carnival's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation from Genius is well-detailed and quite sharp, but also a shade on the flat and desaturated side. Many details, like the grain on woods and the intricate detail within a small "game room", aka mini-casino, really jump out from the screen. Edge enhancement and digital compression issues pop up intermittently, but its only against backdrops and a few night scenes so the damage is very negligible. I'm consistently impressed with the level of detail available in these discs, but the colors here look a little better than normal. A wide variety of shades look great here, ranging from stark pastel pinks and blues to the dingy mud seen during a major battle. The colors still look a little muted, but in scope A Dirty Carnival looks pretty darn good.

The Audio:

Where the disc impressed me quite a bit was within this very strong Korean Dolby 5.1 track. There's lots of audio elements within the film, from the clanking and thumping of bats and weapons to the remote closing of doors in office rooms. It all sounds splendid; surround channels are used VERY effectively, to such an extent that the knocking on the right side of my sound system at one point honestly sounded like rapping against my window. The range between highs and lows sounded fluid and rich, as did the reserved yet ample usage of the lower frequency channels. Overall, I was quite impressed with the level of clarity and richness here. Only optional English subtitles are available with the sole Korean 5.1 track.

The Subtitles:

Speaking of the English subs, they aren't half bad - yet, there's a few burps here and there. Grammatically, it's all pretty solid. However, the literal language seems to be lost in translation. You can get the gist of every line of dialogue from the film, moreso at times, but there just seems to be something else behind a lot of the spoken words in the film. Not to mention, there's simply just a few inconsequential words left out. Prepare for some relatively swanky subs, though they're not deterred enough to not get the disc. For instance "Give me a light", when asked for a lighter, comes out at "gimme some light". It's minor stuff that can easily be shaken off, but it's still there.

The Extras:

Ack. Here's where the quality train makes its stop. Extra material on this disc is very scarce, though I'm grateful for the meager supplements we've got here:

Making of the Action Scenes:
Thirty-six (36) minutes of behind-the-scenes materials and interviews are included here that illustrate the training, preparation, and execution of several of the battle sequences in the film. There's a lot of intricate decisions that had to be made in crafting several scenes, especially with a muddy baseball bat fight and a brawl inside of a 14-seat passenger bus. Here, the actors harp on the efforts of the choreographers and stunt directors, as well as the director, for pushing them to their limits. It's good material filled with a lot of unused take footage.

Deleted Scenes:
Eight (8) minutes of material left on the cutting room floor are included here, most of it secondary character stuff that would've slowed down the already aptly-paced film. There's character development featuring a lot of Byung-doo's family relations, as well as some further extended portions of scenes included in the film. Overall, the deleted material is a slew of wise edits that's better left on the cutting room slab.

-----

Final Thoughts:

A Dirty Carnival offers up one of the strongest, fastest-paced, and action-packed gang politic energies I've encountered. It'll wrap you up in its humor and sharp performances, then entertain with its twists and explosive fight choreography. With very competent technical standards and at least some effort at supplements, Genius' A Dirty Carnival disc comes very Highly Recommended.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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