May 24, 2008

No. 3: The Mob Movie Goes Up in Smoke

Drink from the ashtray. Kill with the ashtray. Die by the ashtray. Such is the wisdom of No. 3 (1997), a choppy mess of a gangster movie that runs a punishing 1 hour and 40 minutes. Why so painful? Well, the comedy's so broad it's flat, the satire's so light, it's invisible, and the violence's so symbolic, its impotent. Plus, the soundtrack will make your skin crawl. Given the awfulness of writer-director Song Nung-han's material, it's strange to witness his ability to attract real acting talent: Han Suk-kyu (A Scarlet Letter) plays the titular character—a hoodlum with Godfather aspirations; Song Kang-ho (The Host) is a stuttering gangleader with aspirational dreams of his own. Neither performer transcends the source but seeing a familar face (when it was younger) will wake you up for a moment or two. Otherwise, expect to fade in and out as cigarettes are crushed into bowls of food, poets give sex tutorials to married women, and one branch of the Korean mafia executes enough doublecrosses for an embroidery kit. (The results are about as interesting as watching someone sew.) I know of no prescribed sedative as effective at helping you get to sleep. It knocked me out twice in a row.

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