This is the first in our Director profiles ,where we look at a certain Director who has constantly delivered hard hitting entertaining films .
After attending the 2012 Korean Film Festival in London i thought it high time we delved deeper into Korean Cinema ,,though i watch a fair bit , we have not covered so much on site, so in a bid to try and bolster the Korean content on site we have for our first director profile a Korean director and writer that delivers time after time.
So here we look at one Ryu Seung Wan aka Ryoo Seung Wan , born in December 1973 in South Chungcheong province of South Korea.
Around that time local cinema or celluloid consisted of many propaganda films and documentaries due to strict government Censorship. Ryu became sucked in to the OTT action of Hong Kong cinema (like many of us) , seeing Jackie Chan's Drunken Master he new he would like to become involved in film.
But getting there is not always easy, unfortunately for Ryu he lost his parents when he was young whilst at middle school and ended up being the main money maker in the family. He would save his lunch money and take Taekwondo lessons and buy a 8mm camera to film short films.
Whilst at High School he dropped out to make money by doing menial jobs like Construction,Catering ,Janitor and even a illegal driving instructor. Many of these at the same time ,he amassed enough money to let his family live for six months and also it paid for tuition at a local film workshop.
During this time he became a fan of new director Park Chan Wook ( Old Boy,JSA and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) ,he managed to meet him and the two became friends.
1996 would be the year that Ryu would direct his first full short film ,Transmuted Head ,the 19 minute short starred many of Korea's Indie actors and film makers.
This allowed Ryu to get assistant director jobs ,one of which was on Park Chan Wook's film ''TRIO''.
Ryu continued to shoot short films on a budget ,but these shorts where gaining attention and praise, from this he was able to direct his first full action feature ,DIE BAD'', consisting of four parts shot as short films, the film became a big success for Ryu in 2000 ( there was even talk of a remake with Lenardo De'Caprio and Ridley Scott Attached) the film follows the decent into a life of crime by protagonist Sung Bin. The film is noted for it's realism in it's action and fighting scenes which now is a important factor in most modern Korean action films.
After this Ryu directed another short which spoofed the Hong Kong films of the 70's and 80's that he loved so much. Becoming a online hit the film Dachimawa Lee made a star of actor Won Hee. It also confirmed the brilliance of Ryu and his younger brother in making gripping entertaining cinema which confronted reality without being numb.
Now Ryu's first full film as director consisting of one story and not filmed as shorts was 2002 film ,No Blood No Tears .
Now this thriller come caper movie is one of the main films I am looking at here ,so what follows is a mini review of the film .
NO BLOOD ' NO TEARS
Written as well as directed by Ryu Seung Wan ,the film follows the girlfriend of a local mobster who does not treat her very well , When she crashes her boyfriends car into that of female Taxi driver Gyung Sun the girl ''Soo Jin' finds she may have landed more then she bargained for .
With the boyfriend on the scene throwing his weight around it's apparent to Gyung that this guy is not going to go easy. The boyfriend goes by the name of Bulldog and his involved in a underground dog fighting ring ,he runs it with a local loan shark .
Now Gyung Sun might be Taxi driver ,but she was a former safe cracker gone straight. He only wish in life is to be reunited with her daughter ,but her ex husband ran of with mob money and she got lumbered with the debt.
Now Bulldog's girlfriend Soo Jin finds herself in a equally belittling situation . A former round girl for the ring she longs to sing,but hitched up in a relationship with Bulldog puts all stop to her dreams.
Soo Jin's meeting with Gyung Sun ,though not under ideal circumstances looks like it may be her only hope . The two get together and come up with a idea to rip off the gambling den surrounding the dog fighting ring .
Now the film was a flop at the cinema , apparently it was very misunderstood by viewers and critics ,though again it had a fine cast from Cinema and Theater it contains all the elements of Die Bad but with added ultra violence interpreted by Jung Doo Hong .
Ryu was very upset at the response from critics ,and felt betrayed .
Now if you want to see a early film from Ryu Seung Wan then please don't miss this film, yes it's gritty in many ways , Now it's the next film I am covering that got me into Korean cinema for sure ,but seeing No Blood No Tears shows where many ideas come from. It's also a film that contains some excellent Martial arts in a street fighting way .
Maybe some of the early parts where slow ,but once the two girls get together you start to really fear for them. And fear you should ,i must admit I can not remember seeing a woman getting beaten so hard in a film ,but she did give as good as she got. Yes I was taken back ,but it was from the fact that in 2002 a film was made like this in Korea . ….
Miss this and your missing the start of Ryu Seung Wan's climb to the top as one of Korea's top directors.
Score out of Ten = 7
Now after No Blood No Tears ,it was two years till Ryu got to direct his next feature ,one again which he wrote ,it is of course ''ARAHAN''.
Part Wuxia,part Modern Day fantasy Arahan was probably the Film that got me interested in Korean cinema as a alternative to the many Western releases. I followed Hong Kong cinema like a craze but Korean cinema started producing films in Western Styles with that added mix of the east.
Hong Kong cinema is quirky and the story lines sometimes veer of into a reason just to fight or shoot, I love them but with Korean cinema you can take many of it's stories and films and transpose them into a Western culture and they would fit . They would not be as good I am sure but they would work.
By the time I had seen Arahan I was knowledgeable of some Korean cinema ,but after I just had to watch as many as I could. Though I must admit importing does cost a pretty penny and it's not always viable to do. Hence why the site does more Hong Kong/Western style films over the others.
Sang Hwan is a rookie policeman ,he's a bit sceptical at confronting the gangs ,but seems OK around local thugs and youths. When a thief steals a purse of someone in the street ,Sang Hwan decides to give chase.
But the hapless thief is captured by Eui Jin and poor old Sang Hwan gets injured ,Eui Jin feels sorry for Sang and takes him home to her to heal him. Just so happens at her home are the six masters of Tao ( they are her family ) any way the masters sense that Sang has a powerful qi energy within him and that he could be a great warrior.
What Sang does not know is that a war is brewing between good and evil and he could be the key. When a evil doer by the name of Heuk Woon is freed from imprisonment and sets to cause destruction and send the world into darkness and chaos it will fall to the hands of our rookie policeman.
Sang Hwan ,ends up training in the arts with the six masters (sometimes to hilarious results) in the end when the day comes it will be Sang and Eui jin that must confront the evil.
Arahan is a fun film which mixes elements of modern day crime-fighting with traditional martial art training scenes ,though much of the fighting is assisted by effects ( street-fighter eat your heart out) , the masters are great all being in their later years they provide ample light hearted scenes .
Arahan is fun and that's what makes it a fun film. And one that shows that you can make original stories infused with historic if what exaggerated content.
I don't know about everybody else ,but I love this film. ….
Score out of Ten = 8
Our next film stars Choi Min-Sik ( Old Boy ) ,though this film is not as tongue in cheek and looks more at true life as it follows the exploits of two men who have fallen on hard times ,it still offers some laughs.
In this 2005 film Ryu Seung Wan approaches life from through the eyes of a former Boxing Silver medalist ,Kang Tae Shik ( Choi Min-Sik) who has fallen on hard times ,after becoming penniless and losing his wife he takes to street hustling ,his routine for this is to become a human punch bag by letting people hit him so as to let of aggression or steam after either a hard days work or for whatever reason, for this they give him a few sheckles to buy food and live. But when his way of living gets the attention of the media it proves more trouble for him as Creditors are after him and when they notice him they go out to get him.
Now on the other hand Yu Sang hwan (Ryu Seung Beom) is a young troubled man who has found himself in jail , his wild ways need to be tamed and he finds a way by undertaking boxing. He becomes so good that he gets to compete in amateur competitions.
When fight promoters and various entrepreneurs take heed of this they see a opportunity to make some money from the plights of both men , for the two men it will be a life changing experience and a chance to right there wrongs.
This has got to be one of the most underrated films ,yes it was well noted for it's content ,but compared to something like Old Boy it did not do the business .
If you see one boxing film from the last ten or so years ,make sure this one is at the top of your list.
Score out of Ten = 8
The last film to showcase Ryu Seung Wan is his 2006 film City of Violence which through it's riveting plot and action scenes make it one of the best action films of 2006.
City of Violence
City of Violence is a film filled with so much action your have to catch your breath after watching it. The story follows four friends that return home to their home town after another friend of theirs is killed by some young thugs.
Returning for the funeral our four comrades have each grown and gone there separate ways after there days as youths in the town. One is a detective ,Tae Soo while another is a gangland boss by the name of Pil Ho , Then there's a reformed mobster by the name of Seok Hwan who is played by the director himself. Our last member Dong Hwan is a maths teacher and the brother of Seok Hwan.
They reminisce there time together as kids and rekindle old friendships, but after the funeral Tae Soo and Seok Hwan decide to investigate the murder of their friend , this will provide some problems for them as Tae Soo is attacked by a group of yobs. This leads the friends to delve deeper into what's been going on and what they uncover may hit home harder then they thought possible.
If you want to be entertained on both the levels of story and conspiracy as well as blinding fight action then City of Violence is a must view for all fight fans .
Score out of Ten = 9
So There you go our short but detailed look at Korean Director Ryu Seung Wan and four of his films which we feel showcase his diversity in film making.
All films Reviewed are region 2 DVD releases and available form the likes of Amazon, if you require other regions then Yes Asia are great for sourcing the originals .
Arahan - © Optimum releasing 2005 region 2
City of Violence - © Contender Home Entertainment 2007 region 2
Crying Fist - © Contender Home Entertainment 2008 region 2
No Blood No Tears - © Third Window Films 2007 region 2
2008 DACHIMAWA LEE
The Unjust - 2010
See the Full review of ''The Unjust '' here on site, the film was written by ''Park Hoon-Jung'' .
2013 - The Berlin File
For a full review of The Berlin File visit the review page
Ryu Seung-Wan attended the Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2013 in London to premier his new film in the UK .Visit the event page for more .