KOREA 2010 Directed & Written by: Kim Hyeong-Jun Produced by: Kang Woo-Seok Editing: Kim Sun-Min Cast: Seol Kyeong-Gu, Ryoo Seung-Beom, Han Hye-Jin, Seong Ji-Roo, Nam Kyeong-Eup, Lee Jeong-Woo, Joo Sang-Wook, Ahn Eun-Jung, Kim Hyeok
Forensic pathologist Kang (Seol Kyeong-Gu) is assigned to examine the dismembered corpse of a female murder victim: head, arms and legs are all severed from the torso and one arm is missing. Kang quickly finds out that the place the body was found is not the murder scene and furthermore that this is not an isolated case of brutal violence but a message to the investigators. Soon all leads point to a fanatic environmentalist, Lee Sung-ho (Ryoo Seung-beom), as the primary suspect, but with his arrest the case is far from over. Kang’s daughter is kidnapped and a manipulative game begins that will drive Kang to the edge – and over.
It is safe to say that the Korean movie industry had lost it a while ago, had forgotten its strengths and instead indulged in producing a stupendous amount of lackluster movies throughout the last decade. There are signs that it gets back to form however, and one of these signs is NO MERCY.
The movie is deadly serious and displays a grim realism that is not for the faint-hearted. The opening scene alone will make some people think should I stay or should I go; starting like this shows that NO MERCY has chutzpah, and not too little. As it’s setting the benchmark early don’t be surprised that the movie continues to show you unsettling images and the world the way it is: in NO MERCY the harsh reality doesn’t undergo the Hollywood treatment, so if you prefer to see things through rose-colored glasses look elsewhere.
That alone is a quality most movies are missing, but NO MERCY feels even more intense and sinister due to the absence of humor (the “duel” between the female rookie and a senior detective is highly entertaining but never impacts the tonality) and the presence of the cast. Seol Kyung-Gu, Ryoo Seung-Beom and Han Hye-Jin are top-notch in their respective roles and drive the movie relentlessly forward.
The true backbone of NO MERCY however is the strong story: the quality of the script is excellent and it’s the true hero of the movie. Tight, stringent, logical yet very creative and full of plot twists the script is nothing short of awesome. Very few movies are blessed with such good writing, even in its most far-fetched moments NO MERCY looks good and plausible.
The surprises it delivers and the nihilistic conclusion are reminiscent of some of the best thrillers, namely Korea’s very own OLD BOY and SE7EN, for instance. If there’s anything to complain about NO MERCY then that it lacks originality in so far as we have seen its subject, subtext and motifs all before. But then, NO MERCY isn’t using them exactly the same way and is more than a simple amalgamation of familiar bits and pieces.
There’s one specific idea here that I’d like to point out as rather genuine and that without a doubt gives NO MERCY it’s very own touch of evil: Kang is forced to act and work against his own convictions and ethics from the beginning. What Lee asks from him is diametrically opposed to everything Kang is, knows, thinks or believes in. That makes Kang an enormously tragic figure and the finale offers no relief. It’s a one-way street for Kang, only that it’s all been mapped out by his adversary and Kang doesn’t realize it until the bitter end.
Not many movies dare to fundamentally depress their audience: NO MERCY is not a happy movie and hence it doesn’t gear towards a commercial happy end. Instead the reward for the open-minded audience is a sharp story with a determined, rational and yet surprising (more or less) ending that doesn’t compromise. So if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.
Kim Hyeong-Jun was so kind though as to present us NO MERCY wrapped in gorgeous visuals and a formidable soundtrack – it’s almost like a concession to ease the viewer’s pain. Even if it doesn’t really make NO MERCY more comfortable to watch – other than Kang at least the audience receives a bit of mercy after all.
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