Breathless (2010)

Reviewed By Charles Tatum
Posted 09/22/09 17:30:30

"Why can't American films be this interesting?"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List," "Breathless" is not your average sit-down-and-gobble-a-bucket-of-popcorn movie. It is violent and depressing, and if not for a lot of flab in the first half of the film, a downright brilliant flick.

Sang-Hoon (the film's writer and director Yang Ik-Joon) is muscle for small-time hood Man-Sik (Man-shik Jeong). Sang-Hoon has a lot of issues, and takes them out on the people he is sent to collect from. The film opens with violence, and the fighting is virtually non-stop throughout. Sang-Hoon lost his mother and sister thanks to an alcoholic father, who is being released from prison. He does have a half-sister and nephew, but his hatred for his father taints his relationship with them as well. He is consistently mean to the little boy, calling him horrible names before angrily dropping off financial assistance for the mother.

Sang-Hoon gets into it with a high school girl, Yeon-Hee (Kot-bi Kim), who dishes out what she takes, thanks to her own messed up home life consisting of a father suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (he won't believe that his wife is dead), and a psychotically violent brother (Lee Hwan) who threatens Yeon-Hee with murder- and who looks like he might carry it out.

Sang-Hoon and Yeon-Hee begin to hang out, but not in a romantic comedy sort of way. The two trade serious insults constantly, both afraid of what might happen if they let their respective guards down. The two are also connected when Yeon-Hee's brother comes to work for Man-Sik, and must learn the ropes from Sang-Hoon, who is not aware that he is Yeon-Hee's brother.

Yang Ik-Soon wrote and directed himself quite a juicy role. The audience is not expected to like Sang-Hoon...and doesn't. I spent most of the first half of the film wondering why I was subjecting myself to the constant barrage of violence and profanity, waiting for some kind of redemptive moment to come out in the main character. You feel terrible for Yeon-Hee, and everyone else who must deal with Sang-Hoon's constant physical and emotional abuse.

The South Korean locations are excellent. No pretty scenery, just back streets in an unnamed urban location. The cast is awesome all around. Toward the end, some very melodramatic moments occur that could have killed the film. They may have read melodramatic on paper, but Yang Ik-Soon directs his cast so well, they are heart wrenching and not silly. Strong scenes populate the film, and it does improve in the second half but again, that first half of the film had me numb to the violence to the point where I almost did not care what happened to Hang-Soon in the second half of the film. Luckily, the film makers brought me around.

"Breathless" is an emotionally draining experience, and much different from the horror films coming out of the Far East as of late. I just hope that if this is picked up for an American remake, they will do it, and Yang Ik-Soon, justice.

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