Usually I find out about good movies because I read reviews or follow certain actors and directors. I’m an IMDb freak and a Netflix subscriber, which is a dangerous combination. This time, a good friend heard about last year’s Kundo: Age of the Rampant, and that started me on a research expedition into South Korean cinema – especially horror (The Host is excellent K-horror that all connoisseurs of the broader genre should have seen by now) and the flicks affectionately termed “kimchi westerns” or “Easterns” – of which Kundo is a prime example.
It might be obvious at this point in my blog history that I’m not a fan of romcoms or teary dramas (exception: historical dramas like The Imitation Game). I prefer scifi, thrillers, action, adventure, you get the idea. I live on the edge. Of my couch. I’m not a hardcore afficionado of martial arts films, but I’ve seen a Kurosawa or two, and of course Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I’ve even seen 47 Ronin (but if you’re looking for a good Keanu movie and you’ve already seen The Matrix 100 times, skip 47 Ronin. Even with the superlative Rinko Kikuchi, skip 47 Ronin. Check out John Wick instead). I enjoy a spaghetti western occasionally. But there’s something about a mashup of Korean swordplay, Tarantino, and Sergio Leone that makes a gal’s eyes light up as she googles Kundo and starts skimming farflung movie reviews. Sweet, it’s on Netflix.
And oh man, what a great way to spend two hours of recharge-time. A blockbuster in Korea, Kundo draws on the country’s history, specifically the Joseon Dynasty (circa 1862), infamous for its government corruption and poverty. Roving gangs of bandits known as “kundo” wreaked havoc Robin Hood-style to return food and money to peasants tricked into indentured servitude by sleazy officials. The movie unfolds in five acts like a Shakespearean tragedy, which indeed it is, but not without wicked swordfights, a balls-out, thundering hooves Morricone-style soundtrack, a kickass lady warrior who shoots a bow while carrying a baby on her back, and the obligatory (yet no less awesome) bamboo forest training montage. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the movie’s delightful parade of period-style hats. Cheers to the costume designer, big time.
Occasionally Kundo slows down for dramatic character development, but that’s a good thing. The acting is top-notch, and these scenes are necessary – they make the ending more poignant. The nobleman villain Jo-Yoon is no cardboard demon, likewise the rebel hero Dochi, a “lower-class” butcher with his gigantic meat cleavers turned mêlée weapons, is a twitchy hothead (literally). Both have their reasons for who they become. And everybody talks like a street kid (“Look at this douche” is definitely my favorite subtitled one-liner). I’m not going to give up plot details – it’s better to let this film unfold. I really want a sequel. In the meantime, I might have to check out The Good, The Bad and The Weird.
Bamboo photo by “PădureDeBambus” by Țetcu Mircea Rareș – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons