May 22, 2016

Red Family: Suburban Assassins

When is a Kim Ki-Duk movie not really a Kim Ki-Duk movie? Basically, whenever he writes it and produces it but doesn't direct it. That doesn't happen often but it has happened a few times recently and, as in most things in life, sometimes it works (Rough Cut) and sometimes it doesn't (Red Family). What's intriguing is that in both cases cited here, comedy — hardly Kim's forte — comes to the fore. Yet whereas the exhilarating Rough Cut, about a gangster who gets cast in a mob movie, relishes every punch and kick at its disposal, Red Family never reconciles the physical brutality (or the "brutal realities" as Kim would probably put it) with its kooky plot about North Korean spies posing as a happy family just outside Seoul. Whenever violence rears its ugly head in these suburbs (and it does so with some regularity), you get the feeling that director Lee Ju-Hyoung doesn't know what to do with it. It's like he can't bear it. Like he doesn't know what it's even doing there. Like he'd faint at the sight of blood. Even though he's the director. Even though it's fake blood.

Compounding the problem, Red Family's bloodiest scenes look incredibly underrehearsed. That may also be why Lee doesn't zoom in for the kills. If anything, he rushes through them. Like the constructed family this movie's about, Lee shies away from violence. He tries to avoid it. Why he decided to get graphic with the barbed wire piercings at the end of Red Family may have more to do with pleasing a mentor than staying true to a directorial vision. Or maybe it took shooting an entire Kim K-Duk movie to make Lee realize that Kim's primary message has always been about how violence is ingrained in us by our culture and that it's impossible to escape. At best, we can try. Anyone who knows Kim Ki-Duk is aware that everything is not going to work itself out in the end for these well-meaning commies. Every Kim movie has bloodshed coupled with emotional scarring. As to anyone unfamiliar with Kim, they'll likely recoil at the nasty turn Red Family takes at the end. Ironically, that's a shock Kim would probably endorse.

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