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No Tears for the Dead

CJ Entertainment // Unrated // February 17, 2015
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted March 1, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

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.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

No Tears for the Dead has a unique visual style going for it: despite being largely navigated by steely blues and oranges like many gritty crime-dramas, it also emphasizes the warmth of skin tones in intimate close-ups and the vividness of greens and reds interwoven throughout the locations. That makes for colorful, complex photography very much in the vein of Lee Mao-gae's work on I Saw the Devil, to which CJ Entertainment presents in a fiercely-detailed 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC treatment. Persistent grain appears in the digital image that adds to the rough-and-tumble aesthetic achieved by the film, but it never intrudes on projecting fine details in tailored suits and knitted sweaters, skin textures coated in blood, and bulky artillery. Black levels are largely deep and moody, save a few instances where heavy noise and grayness can be spotted, respecting details in their depths. The reddish hues of anime character posters and the sickly green cast of lighting offer stable touches of striking color, while the tans and pinks of skin tones a stylishly response to both low and bright lighting. Very appealing.

While the disc defaults to an English language track that might seem accurate due to the English language spoken at first, the native Korean recording can be selected from the main menu, both of which appears as 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. It is, however, a fairly even hybrid given the shifting locations and the natural proclivity for the business-minded characters to converse in English, but the subtitles respond accordingly to the spoken language, which remains natural and balanced no matter which track gets selected. The action-oriented soundtrack itself can be a real beast: thunderous car crashes, thwomping silenced bullets and rattling artillery rounds, shattering glass and a few choice hand-to-hand punches deliver enormously satisfying blasts of activity. Low-end response remains stable and fierce throughout, while crisp highs stay balanced and distortion free as they separate across all the channels, frequently exploring the back-end of the surround stage. The English subtitles, the only sub option and only available with the Korean tracks (you can't watch the English track with English subs), are coherently translated and grammatically on point.

Special Features:

Fans of the director might feel a rush of excitement upon seeing a commentary listed on the package, but they'll need to pump the breaks on that anticipation: the Director's Commentary (3:19, 16x9 HD) ends up being little more than a (slightly deceptive) rebranded three-minute interview with Lee Jeong-beom about the film. Instead, the bulk of the supplemental content arrives in a Making of No Tears for the Dead (27:12, 16x9 HD) featurette, which takes a largely randomized look at several key elements from the film -- the song "Danny Boy", a vicious car crash, flashbacks into Gon's past -- complete with interviews and behind-the-scenes stretches. It should ease some of the disappointment in not having a dedicated commentary track for the film, as it explores some of the rationale behind conceiving scenes and the logistical issues that emerged in them.

A collection of other bits-'n-pieces have also been dropped into the mix, mostly press-kit fluff: an enthusiastic Brian Tee Interview (2:05, 16x9 HD) recorded specifically for the home-video market offers his insights on the sympathetic villain, a brief Behind the Scenes (2:19, 16x9) piece offers an extension to the "director's commentary" in its tempo, and Action Highlights (2:01, 16x9 HD) just strings together brief snippets of the action sequences in the film while labeling it as a game-changer in the Korean action genre. A series of Deleted Scenes (6:51, 16x9 HD), a pair of humdrum Character Bios, and a bland thirty-second Trailer (:31, 16x9 HD) round out the features.

Final Thoughts:

Lee Jeong-beom's No Tears for the Dead offers doses of raw, uncompromising bloodshed that exhilarate in similar ways to his previous success in The Man From Nowhere, with a few impressive shootouts, a touch of gruesome knife-play, and a rush of renegade energy that carries throughout the latter half of the film. As a whole, however, it's markedly less-satisfying in the story department than either his previous work or when compared with the likes of, say, A Dirty Carnival and New World, with inconsequential organized-crime plotting and one-dimensional characters caught in the wake of the accidental murder of a young girl. Decent, yet unspectacular action gets lost in heavy tonality and hollow plotting, making it a tricky balance when weighing those well-shot, well-edited intense sequences against the rest of what's there. CJ Entertainment's Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific and contains a cluster of moderate special features, which should make for a satisfying Rental.

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