River Of Grass
Cozy and Lee go on the lam after an accidental shooting in Kelly Reichardt's debut feature
On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM
Hard-hitting chase thriller directed by the leader of the Korean New Wave Lee Myung-Se. A stunning visual feast, artfully playing with conventions of cinematic time and resembling a manga animation, this is a film dripping with Eastern promise
In a beautifully-shot early sequence, an unknown stranger is stabbed to death. The tone is set for the rest of the film. Drenched with startling colours, disjointed in its time structure and characterised by a lingering attention to indirect details (a girl playing at the scene of the crime, the reflection of the waiting assassin's face in a CD, rain pummelling the bonnet of the car he waits in) the sequence pounds on to a murderous freeze frame climax; teasing, dazzling and intriguing by turn.
Suddenly, the chase is on and a motley crew of ruthless, fascistic cops are on the trail, consistently eluded by the fugitive Sungmin (Ahn) - as smooth as polished ice and as bad as Lee Van Cleef. On the other side is the ultra-violent Detective Woo (Park), a man who has no qualms about torturing his captives. "Call a lawyer and say you were beaten, if I cared I wouldn't be a detective," he tells one bloodied heap.
The brutal police at first seem worse than the criminals, but soon reveal a tender, confused-big-kid side: a theme often movingly (especially thanks to Park's winning smile and fine slapped puppy impression) but sometimes clumsily dealt with - the film's one dud scene features drawn out soul-searching after a criminal is shot.
For the rest though, the viewer is led on a spectacular, frenetic trail through the Korean underworld; constantly assaulted and challenged by the ever-changing imagery and timescale of director Lee Myung-Se's unique brand of cinema.
Perhaps it will seem dated in a few years, but for now, who cares?
It is poetry in motion - a live action manga - and even though the visual bombardment sometimes jars and distracts from the action, it always looks incredible.
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