Having enjoyed a number of films from controversial Korean director Kim Ki-duk (The Isle, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, Samaritan Girl, 3-Iron, The Bow -- well, actually, I didn't enjoy The Bow), I thought I'd go back and see one I missed, 2001's Bad Guy. I'd initially avoided it because of the storyline: A pimp forces a woman into prostitution. Yawn. However, we're talking Kim Ki-duk here, and it occurred to me that I'd probably underestimated his ability to take a simple story and fill it with nuance and complex emotion. I was right.
So you've got Han-ki (Jo Jae-hyeon), a fearsome tough guy who never says a word (a recurring motif in Kim's films). In his case, it could have something to do with that big, ugly scar across his throat -- sliced vocal cords? (In point of fact, he does say something eventually, but I won't say what.) He takes one look at pretty college student Seon-hwa (Seo Won) and it's all over: Love at first site. However, he's a violent dude with a gangster past, and the best he can think of is to grab her, on the street, in front of her boyfriend and a throng of bystanders, and plant an extended, angry kiss on her lips. Needless to say, this doesn't go down well with anyone, least of all a group of passing soldiers, who insist he apologize to the young lady. Their way of insisting involves beating the shit out of him, but our bad guy ain't talking. Seon-hwa spits in his face and everyone disperses. But does this incident dampen Han-ki's ardour? Not a bit of it. It rather stiffens his resolve.
Han-ki eventually gains total control of Seon-hwa, through a series of machinations I leave to you to discover. And eventually, a relationship of sorts develops between them, even as he watches her turn tricks through a one-way mirror, at one point with one of his own henchmen. It's a strange, dark tale of obsession and degradation, and whether you consider it a misogynist fantasy or a genuine love story, there's no denying Kim's ability to suck you in and hold you, riveted, until the final frame.
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