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No Tears for the Dead
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by Jay Seaver

"Big action that doesn't pull any of its punches."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Lee Jeong-beom's last film as director was "The Man from Nowhere", an action thriller spectacular enough that I've spotted people who usually don't like their movies with subtitles telling other folks that they've got to see it. Lee stays on that same path in "No Tears for the Dead", another movie that combines spectacular action with a brutal story to fine effect, and which should also find fans among those who don't necessarily pay much attention to what comes out of South Korea.

Heck, it even starts out in America, with hitman Gon (Jang Dong-gun) taking out a room full of his boss's rivals, but at a cost that has him wanting no more part of the business. The boss (Dana Lee) insists on one last job to clean up the mess that the last one left - one which will send him back to Seoul for the first time since his childhood to follow financial analyst Choi Mo-kyung (Kim Min-hee) and see if she's the one with the missing money laundering data and eliminate her afterwards. Given the circumstances, though, his heart's not in it, making them a target both for the crew headed by his best friend (Brian Tee) and the corrupt head of Mo-kyung's investment group (Kim Joon-sung) and his own muscle.

No Tears for the Dead gets dark quick, and it's the sort of dark that there's really no coming back from. The opening act leaves Gon and Mo-kyung in holes that it would quite frankly be dishonest to have them climb completely out of and piles other issues on as well. Lee doesn't flinch from this, and it's to his credit that he takes things that might be cheap fodder for redemption stories or trivialized with a deceptive romance in other action movies and presents them as more or less destroying the characters. The themes of the main pair trying to find reasons to live and being drawn to each other are there, but they feel more honest here, especially with the dramatic way Lee chooses not to back away from the best possible way for it to go.

He's got a deceptively strong lead pair making it work. Deceptive in part because much of Jang Dong-gun's early screen time has him speaking English, and he's less strong there than you might hope given that the character supposedly grew up in the Midwest. He does very well carrying a haunted nature around throughout the movie whether he's trying to be nice, ticked-off and hostile, or kicking butt. Similarly, we don't initially see Mo-kyung as a devastated recent widow, but I suspect a second look will reveal a brittleness behind her brave face, as Kim Min-hee does very well as the movie goes on and it's very clear that she's more than a little ambivalent about her continued survival. They're individually great and have a good chemistry that's not simple or conventionally romantic.

Much of the rest of the cast - Brian Tee, Kim Joon-sung, Kim Hee-woon, Alexander Wraith, Alessandro Cuomo - are guys whose bread and butter is filling out the cast of action movies because they've got some screen presence and can handle the physical and mechanic parts of it, and they're a pretty good crew. That's not something to take for granted; it wasn't that long ago that Asian movies would really cheap out while trying to give the appearance of an international setting, but American audiences watching this probably won't laugh at much other than the implication that there's a desert in Minnesota. That's even true considering that there's enough English being spoken in the movie that the studio could cut a non-deceptive trailer without subtitles for an American release if they want. It's a slick-looking movie all around, especially in a final act that reimagines Die Hard as something closer to all-out war than a siege.

That climactic sequence is great, but it's only one of several exceptional action sequences in the movie. Lee doesn't go as over the top with the blood and guts as he did in The Man from Nowhere, but he goes big in a lot of other ways, with characters toting heavy ordinance and an impressively massive shootout between two facing apartment buildings. There's some quality hand-to-hand work as well; I wanted to slow one fight down not because it was chaotic but because it was clear and brutal despite how fast it was moving. Lee and his crew execute some impressively large-scale bits without ever losing the connection to the characters.

I suspect that Lee Jeong-beom has a trip to Hollywood in his future, much like the ones that countrymen Kim Jee-woon, Park Chan-wook, and Bong Joon-ho made, although I fear he'd be in the same boat as Kim, handed a script that's not nearly as good as one he'd write himself because all anybody saw was how well he choreographed the large-scale action. But we'll worry about that later; right now, he's making great thrillers in South Korea even though they should be enjoyed anywhere.

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originally posted: 07/24/14 05:09:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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8/25/14 The rock Utter shit 1 stars
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Directed by
  Jeong-beom Lee

Written by
  Jeong-beom Lee

  Dong-Gun Jang
  Min-Hee Kim
  Brian Tee

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