A Dirty Carnival
(비열한 거리)

foreign films

A Dirty Carnival (비열한 거리)
Made in: South Korea
Language: Korean
Director: Yu Ha
Starring: Jo In-Seong, Min Nan-Gung, Yun Je-Mun, Cheon Ho-Jin, Lee Bo-Young
Year: 2006

Synopsis: Small time gangster Byung-Du (Jo In-Seong) makes a living collecting debt money and cracking heads with baseball bats, pipes, and other dull objects. Despite his reliability, he's barely making enough cash to care for his sick mom, his younger brother, and school-age sister.

He's tired of working for his immediate boss, Sang-Chul (Yun Je-Mun), who's the gangster version of a middle manager. Like other middle managers you may know, Sang-Chul has a big mouth, doesn't recognize talent, and takes the credit when others do his dirty work.

But big boss Mr. Hwang (Cheon Ho-Jin) notices Byung-Du's reliability, and offers to give him a big raise and promotion if he kills a bothersome attorney.

At the same time, Byung-Du's buddy from school, a smiley fellow named Min-Ho (Min Nan-Gung), is struggling to make a gangster movie and turns to Byung-Du as a consultant. As Byung-Du climbs the underworld ranks from small-timer to murderer, he thinks about quitting the gangster life and settling down with his perfect girlfriend (Lee Bo-Young).

But his success, as well as Min-Ho's sudden rocket to fame in the film industry, carries a price wrought with unforeseen problems. Byung-Du learns that being a bigger fish makes him a bigger target, and he faces increasing danger from rival gangs as well as ambitious underlings from within his own organization.

The Good: A Dirty Carnival is a well-structured, well-directed, and effectively executed crime drama that any gangster movie fan will be able to follow. The characters are believable, and all the story elements fit together nicely.

There's a lot going on in the movie, and although it's over two hours long, none of the details seem extraneous. The sub-plot involving the likeable Min-Ho, played by the charismatic Min Nan-Gung, works itself in very well during the second half of the film. Overall, Yu-Ha pulls off a pretty powerful gangster movie.

The Bad: Although A Dirty Carnival is well made, there's nothing terribly original here. It's a standard rise and fall story that predictably touches upon the price of being a career criminal.

At the end, it has the same messages that we've seen in movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas: Killing people makes you lose sleep, other criminals can't be trusted, being a gangster alienates you from friends and family, baseball bats make great weapons, blah blah blah.

Oh, and there's some bad karaoke that's hard to watch.

Who would like this movie: A Dirty Carnival is for you if you're a big fan of gangster movies. Some of the things the characters do are distinctly cultural to Asia, and may come across as strange if you're not used to it.

But think of them as learning experiences (that's the great thing about watching foreign films), as there's nothing here that anyone would have trouble understanding in terms of themes and plot.

Private ownership of guns is pretty much illegal in South Korea, so this movie contains a lot of stabbing, bludgeoning, kicking, biting, and funny haircuts. As a result, the violence is pretty disturbing in some scenes, but not over-the-top. If that sort of thing turns you off, then you might want to avoid it.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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