Chain of violence in ‘Dirty Carnival’

Sunday, July 2, 2006

While brutality is a dangerous subject in reality, it makes an excellent theme for a movie. A cruel gangster movie, for example, gives one the strange satisfaction of watching someone being stabbed to death, but at the same time, puts one at ease from knowing that he or she is safely away from the violence onscreen.

By taking a "stab" at the tangle of voyeurism and fear, poet-turned-director Yu Ha opens up a bloodshed world of violence in his movie "Dirty Carnival" and claims it to be reality.

Actor Cho In-sung

Byeong-du, played by actor Cho In-sung, is an ambitious second boss in a gang, who has a "real" family of a sick mother and two younger siblings, and a "gang" family of five brothers depending on him. While he strives to somehow make a decent living for the two families, his merciless boss blocks him by taking away a gambling house which is Byeong-du’s only means of living. Facing a dead end, Byeong-du chooses to abandon his loyalty by making a deal with a man called president Hwang – whose full name is unrevealed in the movie – and kills a senior prosecutor and his own boss. Through this deal, Byeong-du is guaranteed enough financial support to feed his families, but is forced to enter a brutal food chain in which only the strongest man survives.

President Hwang teaches Byeong-du to grow into a proper man by showing him the principles of the world. It is not only money that leads Byeong-du to stab his once beloved boss to death. The brutal process is the price he pays in order to join the vital system and become a "proper" man. But ironically, it is not the act of violence that destroys him.

Byeong-du makes the mistake of splitting his world into two. For him, the brutal world where he has to kill his own boss, bully weaker people and stage a bloody battle with rival gangs is completely separate from his world of trust and compassion.

In his second world, he has a sick mother to take care of, a little sister who loves him dearly, a beautiful first love he cannot forget and a best friend with whom he can share his deepest secrets.

By tilting himself more and more toward the second world, Byeong-du makes the crucial mistake of forgetting the rules of the game. By giving his full trust to his right-arm Jong-su and best friend Min-ho, Byeong-du takes the risk of becoming the "weaker" one in the food chain. Although he himself killed his boss for the price of success, Byeong-du seems unaware of the fact that his own throat could be slit open by someone who also wants to be admitted into the brutal system – and that someone could well be one of his closest people.

At this point, audiences come to a sickening realization – that this stupidly naive character actually mirrors us, the "ordinary" people.

Evidently, director Yu didn’t choose gangster as his theme for mere entertainment. By showing the coexistence of the two seemingly different worlds, he continually forces the audience to see that we all are actual producers and consumers of violence.

The movie may end with Byeong-du as the last victim, but having the two worlds coexisting and the brutal side constantly threatening to take over, no one can be sure who will be the victim next time. Knowing that there is no end to this brutal chain, president Hwang, Min-ho and Jong-su – the temporary "survivors" – drink in celebration with their eyes still full of fear and insecurity.

The "dirty carnival" does not belong only to gangsters. Everyday we too enter the chain of violence and strive to survive remembering the rule that "only the strong remain."

The only defect of this movie is perhaps the fact that no one will be able to simply enjoy a gangster movie after realizing the realities lying beneath the violence.

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By Shin Hae-in