Private Kang (Jan Dong-kun) is a coast guard – i.e. a soldier tasked with watching the South Korean coast for spies from North Korea. He is obsessed with shooting one, even though it is extremely unlikely that he will encounter any. One night, he sees movement and opens fire, killing not a spy, but a teenager having a tryst with his girlfriend. The boy isn’t just shot – he’s riddled with bullets and then blown to pieces with a grenade. No surprise, then, that the girl is traumatized to the p…int of insanity. When Kang realizes what he has done, his mental state disintegrates rapidly as well.
Director Kim Ki-Duk’s work is striking not just because each film is so strong, but because each film is so different from the others. Far from the contemplative beauty of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring, this is gritty and violent. Some of the themes here are familiar, such as a guilty man’s need for redemption, and the rippling effects of violence, which play out in a fascinating manner here as the military outpost gradually tears itself apart.
The language track is the original Korean, and comes in 2.0, 5.1 and DTS flavours. There isn’t much to distinguish the DTS from the 5.1, though the former might have slightly louder surround effects. This really is a nuance, however, because the surround is extremely loud in all cases. The rear speakers arguably are given a bit too much of a workout, with some sounds not really belonging there. On the other hand, the omnipresent sound of the surf is quite effective. There is a bit of distortion on the dialogue, but it isn’t severe.
Viewers should not expect the gorgeous colours of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring. The emphasis is on grit here, and some of the shots look a bit washed out. The night scenes are sometimes a bit murky, too. There is some grain, though it isn’t severe. Twice this disc froze up for a second (as if there were two layer changes).
The commentary, by director and star, is thoughtful, self-critical and informative, but occasionally frustrating. The fact that audiences were confused by the resolution is raised, but the problem is not cleared up. Kim Ki-Duk also provides an introduction and an interview which help contextualize the movie in the Korean political setting. There’s a music video, too. The theatrical trailer is joined by trailers for four other Tartan releases and a still gallery.
Another fascinating film from one of the most consistently challenging directors at work today. Keep watching this guy.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Director’s Introduction
- Interview with Director
- Music Video
- Still Gallery