Dir: Byun Sung-hyun | Cast: Him Si-wan, Sul Kyung-gu | Crime Thriller | South Korea | 117′
Byun Sung-hyun’s The Merciless looks absolutely stunning as it opens on the waterfront where a man is celebrating his release from prison with his gangland mentor as a series of revelations about their ambitious past slowly unfurls in this dramatic and stylish thriller that often feels a bit too clever for its own good.
Jo Hyun-su (Yim Si-wan) is the young criminal and Han Jae-ho (Sul Kyung-gu) his aspirational father figure in this noirish South Korean exploration of like-minded friendship between felons. As long as you don’t thing too much it slips down as easily as a lychee cocktail.
Although this sounds like a contradiction in terms, the two have high hopes of rising to the top the criminal underworld. Hyun-su sons proves himself to the older Jae-ho (Sol Kyung-gu) by saving his life in a knife attack and this loyalty leads to them working together once they are back in the real world. But when push come to shove their motives are very different. Jae-ho is desperate for a chance to kill his boss, Chairman Ko (Lee Kyoung-young) who was behind the attempted prison hit. Meanwhile, Hyun-su is tasked with taking down a enterprise linked to the Russian mafia, in an operation led by the masterful Chief Cheon (Jeon Hye-jin) who is bent on putting Ko and his associates in the klink.
This is a colourful and tonally cohesive genre thriller which have echoes of Infernal Affairs. Visually it’s lushly and vibrant but narratively there are drawbacks. Performance-wise too there is much to enjoy and the rapport between the leads crackles with charismatic, especially in regard to Yim Si-wan (a Korean pop singer who also goes by the name of Siwan). And although the film is more style over content, it’s a good-looking piece of filmmaking that slightly outstays its welcome at nearly two hours. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | CANNES REVIEW