Rough Cut (Yeong-hwa-neun yeong-hwa-da) (Director: Jang Hun): The Korean title of the film translates roughly as “A Movie is a Movie” and that captures a bit of the flavour of this gangster/buddy movie set within another film shoot. Written by Korean master Kim Ki-Duk (director of 3-Iron), it’s essentially the story of two men: Soo-ta is an action movie star, playing tough gangster roles. Gang-pae is an actual gangster, who has often wished he was a movie star. Their lives come together unexpectedly when yet another co-star quits Soo-ta’s latest film, annoyed that the star has failed to pull his punches in their fight scenes. Soo-ta remembers Gang-pae after the gangster had one of his henchman ask for an autograph. The movie star proposes that Gang-pae join the production and the gangster agrees on the condition that they fight for real. It’s a macho showdown that neither man can resist.
And for most of the movie, it’s played for laughs, with the film’s director worriedly asking “Soo-ta, are you alright?” after each of Gang-pae’s punches connects and draws blood. We also see the gangster lose some of his ruthlessness, thanks to a female co-star who falls for him. But he seems to resist making himself so vulnerable and repeatedly reverts to his old persona. Dreaming of another life seems futile to him, and working on the film is taking him away from important work he’s doing for his imprisoned boss, whose trial is upcoming. And that work isn’t pretty.
The final third of the film is breathtaking. There is a climactic fight scene for the film-within-a-film that takes place on a muddy beach, and both actors hold nothing back. By the end of it, it’s difficult to tell one man from the other, which seems to indicate that some sort of bond has formed. Instead, the last scene reinforces in the most brutal way the difference between the gangster and the movie star.
In keeping with Korean film tradition, the melodrama is amped up, including the schmaltzy guitar soundtrack. The female characters aren’t really developed much, either. But the end result is still effective; you want these two guys to become friends, to learn from one another. You want there to be the possibility of redemption. The ending isn’t so much frustrating and shocking (though it is both) as it is incredibly sad.
Rough Cut has been picked up for distribution in Canada by Evokative Films. Look for theatrical and DVD releases next spring.