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No Mercy (2019)
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by Jay Seaver

"I guess this sort of revenge flick shouldn't exactly be "fun", but..."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Man, how many times do the makers of this movie think we need to see a developmentally disabled 17-year-old raped before we're invested? I praise Korean genre cinema for not messing around on a regular basis, but there's a fuzzy space between being no-holds-barred in a thriller inspired by an actual crime and making a rape-revenge story extra tacky without finding a new angle. That's a simple way to look at "No Mercy", I suppose, but it's not a complicated movie despite its occasional efforts to become one.

It picks up with Park In-ae (Lee Si-Young) walking into a garage in a red dress and heels that don't exactly beg to be accessorized with a sledgehammer, but In-ae is the sort of lady who makes it work. A beauty with strong mixed-martial arts skills who is having a little trouble finding work after a couple years in jail for a trumped-up charge, though Ha Sang-man (Lee Hyung-Chul) of "Happy Cash Loans" will throw her some work for collections. She is at least happy to be reunited with sister Eun-Hye (Park Se-Wan), a pretty teenager who is mentally about ten years old and whose history of being bullied had inspired them to move before. When Eun-Hye doesn't come home from school one day, In-ae naturally starts worrying and looking, and what she finds as she examines both Eun-Hye's current circumstances and the way things were in the last town where they lived fills her with the sort of horror and rage that leads back to visiting small businesses with a sledgehammer in hand, working her way up to Senator Park Young-Choon (Choi Jin-Ho).

This film doesn't necessarily demand a whole lot of range from its two lead actresses - the happiness and affection between the Park sister as they see each other again is something of an oasis among the rest of the film - so much as sustained effort that leaves a little room for individual personality. Lee Si-Young is committed and properly intense, doing good work to find distinct notches to push In-ae's fury to new levels with each new revelation and communicating how terrible she feels for somehow not having seen this before. It's not exactly an emotional roller-coaster, but it's not something where one can settle in or detach. Park Se-Wan occasionally falls into the trap of making Eun-Hye's disability substitute for a personality, but more often she captures a kid wanting people to like her and knows she's got to work a little harder, even if she doesn't fully understand why what's involved makes her feel awful. The rest of the cast may be playing creeps without much in the way of nuance, but those two are able to anchor things.

It's a simple enough story, which doesn't easily stretch to ninety minutes, so the second half spends a whole lot of time adding more flashbacks to flesh things out. The trouble with that is that, unless there's a clever twist or shock, all that corruption and detail really doesn't matter and just leads the audience to ask inconvenient questions about the timeline (like, who was looking after the sister while Inae was in jail, how did she only know about the smallest part of this, etc.?). It was the second Korean film of the day to seemingly jump tracks, moving from what was a fairly effective story of bullying and Inae potentially finding herself more and more surprised by the horror she discovers to a dig into continuity the audience knows nothing about until it's revealed as necessary that paints the heroine as negligent rather than tragic.

The action is pretty decent, at least, with Lee Si-Young doing most of her own stunt work after a few months training in Brazilian jiu jitsu, with the director saying that no wires were used. The fights are still kind of tight and choppy at times, but they do have a nasty authenticity to them. The cast and crew pull the nice trick of making them feel difficult and painful after spending a bit of time building Inae up as someone not to mess with - this stuff is harder than it looks and the extra mass and reach a man has compared to her can compensate for a fair chunk of skill.

That makes "No Mercy" the sort of revenge flick that makes one wonder if the people who make these movies sometimes feel they have to do more that the last to be memorable, leading to the piling on of nastiness to the point where one feels repulsed rather than involved by the end. It delivers the goods it promises, at least, and Lee Si-Young gives the movie some genuinely bloody knuckles on top of the usual angry intensity.

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originally posted: 03/01/20 08:28:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/04/20 Michelle Hahn I really thought this was accurate and inspirational and showed how you should never give u 4 stars
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Directed by
  Kyoung-tack Lim

Written by
  Min Kim

  Si-Young Lee
  Jun-hyuk Lee
  Se-wan Park

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