Film noir showcases duo’s martial arts skills

May 16, 2006 ㅡ The film might not have computer graphics imagery or spectacular wire-work, but for a martial-arts flick, it’s as visually stunning as any other big-budget action spectacular.

The actors flip and spin in mid-air. They jump up walls. They shoot their bloody fists at their foes ― and it’s all real. Well, mostly real.

The actors, Ryu Seung-wan and Jeong Doo-hong, are indeed real martial artists who play leading roles in the new movie, "Jjakpae," or in its English title, "City of Violence. "

"It was a dream come true," said Ryu, who plays Seok-hwan in the film, which he also directed. "I have been playing and directing many action films, but I always longed for more, something with real live action.
"So I thought I better make one fast, while I’m young and strong enough," he said.

The 34-year-old actor and director began making 8mm films when he was in middle school. He made his first short, "Transmutated Head," in 1996 and participated in director Park Chan-Wook’s "Three Members" as an assistant director. He received an Outstanding Award from the Pusan Short Film Festival with "Rumble" and the Best Film Award at the Korea Independent Short Film Festival with "Our Contemporarie" the following year.

Ryu’s acting partner, Jeong, said that he also wanted to be in a film that was "simply action" ― without romance or brain-teasing suspense.

"I thought this was my last chance [to appear in an action movie] as well," said Jeong, 40, a former stuntman and a martial art choreographer. "So I wanted to show everything I had… But who knows [what viewers will think]."

The film noir does hit viewers hard ― the scenes are furious and blood-curdling. The story is about five friends who meet again after 10 years, at the funeral of their hometown friend. Curious about the sudden death of his friend and discovering he had been murdered, policeman Tae-Su (played by Jeong) decides to stay in the town for a few days and look into a mysterious gang suspected of being behind the killing, and Seok-hwan helps him.

The movie reaches its climax as the two confront and knock down hundreds of gang members, one by one, at a brothel.

The film industry was not surprised that the two decided to collaborate with each other on a martial arts film. It is no secret that Ryu has admired Jackie Chan "ever since I was old enough to know that there were such things as movie directors," while Jeong respects the Korean martial arts actors Park No-sik and Jang Dong-hwi.

"I thought it was very cool to wear a formal hat and throw blows at the enemy and rescue women," Jeong said. "But when I first debuted [as a stuntman], it was during the days when stuntmen were treated as less than human."

However, he said, times have changed and he is glad that young prospective actors at the Seoul Action School, where he teaches martial arts, now seem to be proud to get into the action genre.

Ryu says there were other reasons the two focused on showing only pure action in "City." He said he had a low budget of 2.5 billion won ($2.7 million) to create the entire film and he could not spare it for anything more than fist fighting and kicking.

"We simply had no money to make those computer graphics images," he said.

Next to him, Jeong added jokingly, "And you can’t expect us to act in a drama like Hwang Jeong-min or Ryu Seung-beom," referring to another recent action flick, "Bloody," that Ryu’s younger brother Seung-beom, starred in with the actor Hwang.

"I think we are best only when we are showing what we do best, like simply getting ourselves into martial arts action scenes," Jeong said.

But Jeong explained their philosophy of action as being a bit more complicated than others might think. "It’s not about roughly kicking once, but it involves twisting your torso several times to make [the action] seem more real."

"You are talking through your body," said Ryu. "Your actions should show that your entire body is crying."

by Lee Hoo-nam, Lee Min-a [email protected]