It’s a rare film that contains something to offend absolutely everybody, but BAD GUY manages it. It’s an unlikely love story many will claim—and have claimed—is misogynistic, and they’re probably right. The film is also, however, a uniquely daring, multi-faceted work. Its creator was Korea’s Kim Ki-Duk, best known in the US for his profoundly demented art film THE ISLE…although BAD GUY makes it look positively light and sunny by comparison!
46-year-old Kim Ki-Duk is one of Korea’s most prolific filmmakers, having made twelve features over a ten-year period. The majority of those films are quite good, at times even brilliant, packed with undeniable filmmaking savvy in service of a unique and distinctive—and often uniquely deranged—filmmaking sensibility. Duk has made a few “nice” films, most notably the serene Buddhist parable SPRING, SUMMER, WINTER, FALL…AND SPRING, which wowed mainstream critics during its ‘03 US theatrical bow, but the majority of his work tends to be dark, antisocial fare—see ADDRESS UNKNOWN, REAL FICTION, SAMARITAN GIRL, the aforementioned THE ISLE and 2001’s BAD GUY (NABBEUN NAMJA), arguably his most offensive concoction.
Sun-Hwa, a pretty young woman, is spotted by Han-Ki, a hulking near-mute pimp, who takes an immediate shine to her. Han walks up to her and smooches her in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, and is promptly spit on and beaten up by some uniformed military men who happen to be passing by. He gets his revenge by leaving a wallet of money strategically placed in a bookstore for Sun (who despite her good looks is far from angelic) to snatch. She’s promptly caught, and in order to repay her debt is forced into prostitution.
Sun doesn’t adapt particularly well to her new profession, much to the consternation of her captor, who intently watches her through a one way mirror. Things are complicated by one of Han’s fellow pimp buddies, who becomes infatuated with Sun; despite his occupation, the guy tries to free Sun from her new-found life as a whore, but Han manages to recapture her and force her back into it.
However, a change is coming over Sun: she finds she’s beginning to take to being a prostitute, as well as the guy who’s forced her into it. Matter of fact, she actually starts to enjoy the fact that he’s watching her work on her “johns” through the one-way mirror.
But there’s trouble on the horizon: Han has gotten involved with some street scum who are looking to take him down for good. After some violent confrontations Han kills one of his enemies and is sent to jail. Shortly thereafter his buddy who is in love with Sun is sent to jail along with him. Both are eventually let out, which precipitates an all-out battle for the hand of Sun.
Kim Ki-Duk’s films tend to be beautifully filmed, poetic and deeply queasy, not just in the copious graphic sex and violence he favors, but in his all-too-convincing grasp of aberrant psychology. Watching BAD GUY (and many of his other films), one gets the feeling that it’s not just the characters onscreen who are twisted beyond repair!
Duk revels in grotesquerie here, with wholesale brutality, bloodletting, vomiting and all-around sickness. The opening scene adequately sets the tone, showing the title character brutally manhandling an innocent woman—it’s this guy Duk asks us to emphasize with as the film goes on, even as he rapes and smacks around his lover, brutally beats up pedestrians and generally acts like a total asshole throughout. The wonder of it is that Duk nearly accomplishes his goal of making the character sympathetic. The lead actor Cho Je-Hyun (he and the lead actress Seo Won both appeared in Duk’s THE ISLE) succeeds in creating a complex individual who reveals a number of unexpected shades as the film goes on, and Duk puts this “Bad Guy” though a wealth of torture equal to that of his victims. By the end of the film he may not deserve Sun-Hwa’s love, but you can’t say he hasn’t earned it.
BAD GUY [NABBEUN NAMJA] Life Size Entertainment
Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Producer: Lee Seung-Jai
Screenplay: Kim Ki-Duk
Cinematography: Hwang Choi-Hyun
Editing: Ham Sung-Won
Cast: Cho Je-Hyun, Seo Won, Kim Yoon-Yae, Choi Duk-Moon, Choi Yoon-Young, Shin Yoo-Jin, Kim Jung-Young, Nam Gung-Min