August 23, 2008

Open City: Operatic Excesses and Petty Crimes

"The Rigoletto of Korean film," is how a friend described Sang Ki-lee's Open City and he's got a point for although not a single word is sung, this tragedy about a gang of violent pickpockets and the orphan-like policeman hot on their heels has enough big-moment melodrama, showy knife fights, and weepy orchestrations to justify the full Verdi treatment. (It even runs a little long!) In the colortura role, actress Song Ye-jin is the ultimate dragon lady—a ruthless beauty who hams it up for the camera as she slaps around her boys while wearing sparkly jewelry, slitted dresses, and stiletto heels. Is there anything more noir than a calculating woman with expensive sunglasses, a split lip and a cigarette? Yeah, just give her a fancy lighter. (She's got one.) True to the genre, she's faced with a male foil (Kim Myeong-min) who's a bit of a castrati; he doesn't have a shot in hell when faced with her wiles and he's way too chicken to take her up on an offer for a free tattoo. Complicating matters is a diabetic, splayfooted, reformed master criminal (Kim Hae-sook) who's also, coincidentally, the mother of the cop and the surrogate aunt to the femme fatale. Loyalties are tested. Blood is spilled...repeatedly. High notes are felt if never heard.

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