May 12, 2008

Hong Kil Dong: Spaghetti Eastern

South Korea's Golden Age of Cinema doesn't date back to the 1980s so you can't fault their North Korean brothers for cranking out equally subpar fare during that same decade. Hong Kil Dong (1986), a martial arts fantasy—that plays like Robin Hood without the tights or the joy—registers as some sort of Eastern variation on the Spaghetti Western. Times are grim. Corruption is rampant. It'll take a special kind of man to reinstate a semblance of justice...or at least to settle the score. Doors may slide instead of swing, men may kick instead of horses, but the bandits still cackle, the punches still land with a smack of pleather, and the sound of the flute eternally signals that the hero is somewhere nearby. Is director Kim Kil-in as close to Sergio Leone as Pyongang is ever gonna get? Probably. Because even if outright communist propaganda is kept to a merciful minimum, the didacticism, the xenophobia, and the anti-individualism still bleed through. The title character isn't so much a loner as an outcast; his victory isn't his own so much as one shared with "the people." The closest you'll get to sexy is an orgiastic birth scene at the beginning. Clearly making new soldiers is the best a person could hope for in this life.

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