As a dynamically charged revenge flick, THE CITY OF VIOLENCE does feel a little similar to KILL BILL. It’s a comparable synergy of Ryoo’s cinematic influences filtered through Korean sensibilities—a western-samurai vibe, the do-it-yourself style of Jackie Chan martial arts, bloody Hong Kong stylized violence and an American 80s buddy action movie—but tonally the film is more serious and less tongue in cheek than Tarantino’s opus. Ryoo is also a double threat as both director and star. He’s a fine actor and martial artist, but I was even more impressed with his direction and ultra-stylistic energy. The man throws everything at the audience, including long takes of the action, character glorifying slow motion and close-ups, split screen, a groovy soundtrack and a camera that never stops moving.
It might sound like overkill, but the pacing lets the style build up gradually. Aside from a sweet multi-gang style battle ala THE WARRIORS, the first half of THE CITY OF VIOLENCE mainly takes its time developing a decent dramatic plot and characters (including a pretty effective villain). But really, Ryoo is just letting the audience breathe before the film’s insane final half hour, which consists of pretty much one long fight after another. He and martial arts badass Jung Doo-Hong kick, punch and slash their way through hundreds of people in sequences that left me tired and sore just watching it. And these aren’t superhuman characters who can take an endless number of beatings without being phased. When they get cut in a knife fight, they feel it and by the last round the two can barely stand, and rightfully so. It’s just a fantastic, hyperkinetic and bloody conclusion that is worth recommending the entire movie over. It also culminates in one of the best, most appropriate final lines I can remember.
Commentary by director and star Ryoo Seung-Wan: Ryoo is obviously a giant film buff and he wears his geek heart on his sleeve. Maybe something was lost in the translation though because, while this subtitled track is informative, it too often reads with obvious statements like “I wanted to convey this…” or “I wanted to try this…”
Blooper Reel (2:36): Some funny mess ups, but also some pretty scary near stabbings. And I like how they even subtitle the cast’s laughter (“ha ha ha ha ha”).
A Trailer Gallery.
Evolution of Action (12:22): A look at the action in previous Korean movies by the cast and crew compared to the fight scenes in CITY OF VIOLENCE. There’s almost no wire work used, which is pretty impressive considering the action.
Creating Emotive Action (8:37): Director and star Jung Doo-Hong, (a Korean martial arts vet) speak about fight choreography techniques and styles, and the important ingredients in creating a good movie fight.
Development and Pre-Production (9:44): Ryoo elaborates on how the idea for the film progressed and how they attempted to maximize the surprisingly low budget (i.e. nobody got paid upfront).
The Art of War: Conceptual Designs (6:34): The production designer shows some preproduction designs for the major action set pieces and talks about how the lack of money necessitated certain design elements.
Battle Plans: Technical Tests and Pre-Training (6:17): Some footage of the crew trying out different film formats and speeds to choose the best ones for the action. Ryoo name drops CITY OF GOD as a reason he chose 16mm and that’s fine by me.
Performance Management (11:14): Interviews with the actors about their characters and performances, as well as Ryoo talking about directing himself in the action scenes.
Blow By Blow (35:06): A look behind the scenes of every major fight in the movie, from training to choreography to filming. There were plenty of injuries and mistakes (and no stuntman) before they got it right.
Two Against The Rest (47:42): A very comprehensive Making Of feature with cast/crew interviews, Ryoo discussing his influences (Jackie Chan and John Woo…shocking), as well as what he thinks of the comparisons to KILL BILL.
A Walk on the Wild Side (42:32): A featurette on the development of the action scenes, with a focus on choreography and how they create a fight sequence from scratch. It’s not an easy job (at least in Asia), even for the director, who tore a ligament pretty bad.
Council of War (16:39): Commentary on just the action scenes by star and action director Jung Doo-Hong. Not sure why he couldn’t just chime in during the regular commentary.
Deleted Scenes (8:05): A handful of short scenes, including an alternate ending. You get more of the female character (who does get shafted in the film) and an alternate single take from the Warriors fight. Available with director commentary.
Behind The Scenes at the Venice Film Festival (3:47): A quick glance at the film’s press conference, interviews and premiere.
Designer Action (3:53): Want to know how they got that badass poster for the movie? The stars had to jump off a platform 60 times to get the pose you see. A surprisingly interesting featurette on how they develop artwork for a movie, which is something you probably take for granted.
Extra Tidbit: If you look closely at their jerseys, the name of the baseball team in the gang fight sequence is…you guessed it: The Warriors.