Review: Rough Cut


[Korean Cultural Service New York’s “Korean Movie Night” series will strike again tomorrow night with Jang Hun’s Rough Cut. It will be playing for free tomorrow night at the Tribeca Cinemas at 7 PM. Head over to the announcement post for more information.]

Rough Cut is a Korean film about making Korean films. If you are unaware, that basically means it has the greatest premise of any movie ever. Seriously, you get a glimpse at what’s going on behind the scenes of Korean movies. But it’s even better than that, because it involves gangsters. You know why that’s better? Because I’ve always believed that Korean directors used actual gangsters to make their fight scenes to look so good.

Whether that’s true or not, I now have evidence to back up my claims. So basically Rough Cut is like a documentary as far as I’m concerned. Even if it isn’t one.  

It totally could be, though. Maybe. Probably not.

Rough Cut 2008 So Ji-Sub

Rough Cut (Yeonghwanun Yeonghwada)
Director: Jang Hun
Rating: NR
Country: Korea

Rough Cut is primarily focused on two characters: Gang-Pae (So Ji-Sub), a high-level gangster whose name actually means “gangster” in Korean; and Su-Ta (Kang Ji-Hwan), a movie star whose name is the Korean pronunciation of the word “star” (thanks AsianMediaWiki!). After Su-Ta actually beats up some fellow actors during filmed fight scenes, the only person he can convince to work with him is Gang-Pae, who is a fan of his films. Gang-Pae will only do it, however, if everything is real. Su-Ta agrees.

As would be expected of a Korean film, the fight choreography is top notch. It’s not as good as some (there were a couple of hits that clearly didn’t connect), but it’s pretty damn amazing and puts all American action movies to shame. There are some amazing fight scenes (with the final one being one of the coolest I’ve ever seen in a film). My biggest issue as far as all of that goes is with the color of the blood, which is just a bit too red and paint-like. There was a lot of it, so any imperfections were constantly apparent throughout the film. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but it cuts down a bit on the realism that the film strives to maintain. 

Rough Cut Fight Scene

The story goes to some interesting places. While there are some typical beats that apparently infect every film industry in the world, there are plenty of moments that come as a surprise (or at least stay outside of the realm of generic). Those moments are what really make the film stand out. I think I was most surprised by how funny the film is. Usually these movies are very serious, with maybe the occasional joke to lighten the mood, but there is a levity to Rough Cut which makes it stand out from other Korean action films. There is one moment in particular where Gang-Pea and one of his subordinates decide to “make a movie” together. It’s a great scene, and it’s the one that made a very good movie into a great one. 

Although the actual process of filmmaking is mostly ignored, the glimpses that you do get into the creative process are pretty cool. I learned some new things about making movies, and that’s all I could really want from that aspect of it. What is more interesting, though, is the look into how gangsters live their lives. Gang-Pae’s boss is in prison, and there’s a lot of talk about the trial and the need to find and destroy any evidence. Seeing how they deal with that situation as well as other ones that arise from the events contained within the film itself is often brutal and always interesting. 

Rough Cut 2008 crashed car

One thing I definitely want to point out is the strangeness of the sound editing. It’s not that it’s bad or off, but that occasionally it seems almost too on. There are moments where people are being thrown into things or their heads are hitting walls or whatever, and the sounds are muted. Chances are, those are the sounds that we should hear but never do. It’s the fact that we never do that makes it strange. The sound effects in Korean films tend to be much closer to real than in American films, but Rough Cut seems to take it a step further. It’s kind of off-putting while it’s going on, but I began to appreciate it after the fact. The music, on the other hand, is kind of bland. When I did notice it it was weird pseudo-rock stuff that wasn’t really interesting nor effective in setting any kind of mood.

What’s really important, though, is the way that everything fits together. There a lot of parallel plot lines in Rough Cut, but they all have some kind of closure, and that closure is usually soaked in at least one person’s blood. It has the greatest premise ever, and though it’s not among the best Korean films I’ve ever seen, it still does the concept justice.

And, really, that’s what important.