Bad Guy Review

Kim Ki-duk had kept himself busy in 2001. Fresh from completing the docu-style Real Fiction (2000) he then went on to direct Address Unknown before making Bad Guy in the same year, part of a continuing string of films that deal with the human psyche, reactions and observations on modern society.

In Bad Guy Kim takes us into the world of prostitution. The story begins with a man named Han-gi (Cho Jae-hyun) who whilst walking through town suddenly spots an attractive young woman named Kim Seon-hwa (Seo Won) sitting on a bench across the street. Han-gi gets up and walks toward her; she is greeted by her boyfriend before Han-gi forcefully kisses her in front of everyone, leading up to a police confrontation that sees him forgoing an apology.

A day or so passes and Han-gi decides to visit the same place where he saw the girl. Soon she goes shopping and in a pre-planned set up she steals from a book store and is caught by a man demanding his money back. Unable to pay him she is forced into prostituting herself until the money is made back and as misfortune would have it; her pimp is none other than Han-gi, suffering from a bad case of love at first sight.

So, those who have already seen several of Kim Ki-duk's films will be all too familiar with his societarian approach. His works raise questions, tackle taboo subjects and present the world with reasons as to why it is so screwed up. He paints a familiar picture by presenting a realistic society in a stark light and this in turn attributes to mixed criticism, and I've often found that some of the more harsher criticisms toward the violence that he displays comes from those who lack the ability to understand what it is that the director is trying to achieve, rather than glorify it he presents it as a reality. Kim Ki-duk is a director of pure passion; this makes his films special, partly because of their open ended, interpretive effects and the determination to throw the obvious in our face in order to make us think once in a while.

It's in Bad Guy that Kim explores the volatile nature between male and female relationships, but this time in a surrounding that's a little different from the norm. Taking place in a red light district where women whore themselves every night Kim shows us the world as it appears on the outside but delves into what lies on the inside. It is his spiritualistic fascination that sees him trying to unlock what it is that goes through the mind of some of the most evil people in the world and if he doesn't succeed then he's at least offered some food for thought.

It can be argued as to whether or not the character of Han-gi is good or bad. In my opinion he's no more than a thug, the title says it all and no amount of suggestive reasoning can justify the man's actions. Kim does not focus on his background, instead Han-gi is a man of few words and utters barely a few sentences throughout the entire film, and when he finally does it is up to the viewer to decide if he is a man worth sympathising with, something again that I find hard to do, presuming that his high pitched voice is a result from a neck injury that is made evident by a nasty scar and if you want to get deeper into it you can presume he only got that through fighting with other thugs. What Kim does (and of course Cho Jae-hyun) is present a figure to the audience whereby they can form their own opinions. Personally I feel it is obvious from the outset that Han-gi is an obsessive who has little respect for anyone around him and the biggest testament toward all of this is in the film's final reel. Han-gi is not a likeable person and much of the film serves as proof of this, he's voyeuristic and has no respect for a person's privacy and he will intervene in things that rarely concern him. It is as if Kim is deliberately tricking the viewer and trying to gauge a reaction from considering how much forgiveness one person deserves.

The character of Kim Seon-hwa is one that brings the most problems to the film. Her actions are too contradictory to be able to provide a proper summation. What we're watching here is for the most part a formulaic melodrama that has her go from being weak and innocent to a person stronger and more willing to prostitute her body as time goes on. Naturally as she settles into her surrounding she learns to accustom herself to the job and Kim once again provides a look at women being projected as objects of desire and their roles in certain circles. As the film progresses we start to see an unlikely relationship form between Han-gi and Seon-hwa, that shows after much violent rejection she is finally open to the idea that Han-gi might not be such a bad guy after all. The man who took her away from the life she was living and stripped her down to nothing more than sex fodder suddenly becomes a man who she has misunderstood. It is now that she accepts her new life and freely chooses to continue living it this way. When we reach the film's resolution it gives us a bitter taste, one born out of frustration from characters that have essentially become nothing more than pawns in a bigger game of prostitution chess. It is these contradictory elements that proved to be problematic in his 2003 production Samaria. Kim has said how religion is something that interests him but it is more of a universal religion as opposed to a strict order, one that sees him create his own understanding and beliefs.

I feel that characterization is something that plays secondary to the points that Kim tries to make. His obvious lack of concern at times are partially down to the fact that he's dealing with certain issues and it doesn't interest him to flesh out characters by giving us a deep back story. He doesn't force us to like or dislike someone but while his approach here is an interesting one that makes clear points about the aforementioned issues it still falls a little short when it comes to offering a more fulfilling experience. There are moments that offer intriguing insights with examples such as Han-gi's attitude toward tardiness. Sure, Han-gi is an awful man; he's no kinder just because he likes to tidy up now and then. Kim's film can be judged on certain merits, more as a study piece than a coherently character driven one.

Kim Ki-duk is too much of an experimentalist to ever let himself fall into a trap of repeating the same process over and over, most notably in his choice of directing. He often treats his films as if he were painting them on a canvas and it's no doubt due to the fact that he is a painter, who until around 1995 had no prior knowledge on film making. It's interesting to see a man of true artistic talent being able to make such transitions because as a man of art he makes his films out of interest and desire, rather than focus on them becoming commercial successes.

Bad Guy is a film rich in colour for one that spends most of its time set along a street full of whore houses. Kim takes his proverbial brush and paints a depressingly attractive town, full of neon greens and reds where pretty women wearing contrasting coloured dresses or underwear reside. In addition he uses tints of green and blue that graces the office walls and disgusting browns that appear on the wallpaper in the prostitutes' living quarters. Kim continues to carry the film by inserting wonderful compositions that have often made his films so visually arresting in the past and in the time since this one was made. He has a way of presenting scenes from all angles that never head toward pretentious territory; instead they are well executed shots, thought out with great care.

The director established early on in his film making career a good eye for casting. Cho Jae-hyun makes his fifth appearance in a Kim Ki-duk film, a clear sign of a developing trust between actor and director that has seen Cho go from strength to strength while taking on more difficult roles. Cho offers almost no dialogue throughout the run time and instead presents his character as a silent figure whose emotions play out through his body language. Cho is certainly up to the task of portraying such a person as Han-gi and what he's done with the character is to try and conjure up his own history and channel that through his performance. Kim has left the pondering duties to Cho, who does a very respectable job considering he's made up the character from scratch instead of being told by the director what he's all about. I feel though that Han-gi as a character is not pitiable and it doesn't matter how hard Cho tries to make him likeable, he rarely succeeds but this is also a good quality because in the end he still offers a damn fine performance and the film itself isn't about trying to like Han-gi, it's just about presenting a man who has failed in life, born in the wrong place at the wrong time. He represents a large majority of people who have grown up in less than satisfactory environments.

Seo Won demonstrates her bravery by taking part in a film that doesn't exactly do much to promote feminism but does go a long way to show us the difficult predicaments that some women face. Seo puts a lot of emotion in her performance, beginning with her first sexual encounter at the hands of a drunken customer. Her pain and discomfort is real, she feels as if she's being raped as her cries for the man to stop are ignored. Her wish was for her first time to be with her boyfriend but that wish has been taken away from her. Seo Won gives 100% as a young girl dealing with loss of innocence and resentment toward her "keepers". She does well to try and retain a sense of dignity about her character but as mentioned earlier her sensibilities change so suddenly, perhaps another example of a person just coming to terms with her new life and giving up on her old one.

The film has a fine supporting cast, including Choi Duk-moon as Han-gi's younger brother who falls in love with Kim Seon-hwa but doesn't know that Han-gi also loves her. It plays out like a bitter love triangle that culminates in a violent confrontation of family values. Choi plays his character both comically and serious in what is a realistic portrayal of a man suffering from such overbearing desire. Kim Jeong-young as Eun Hye, the mistress of the brothel that keeps Kim Seon-hwa is a woman of few words but helps Kim through her tough stay by sharing her own lessons that have come from past, traumatic experiences. Kim Yoon-tae plays Jung Tae, who works under Han-gi. He respects who he works for and would put himself on the line to see that his boss is kept safe. Kim does a fine job and without having to try too hard he comes across as another good character that is grounded in reality and faces up to his problems.

Kim's film is one of tragedy that picks no bones as it depicts certain professions and environments to a degree that you will like or loath it for all the right reasons, as it is a film that is good as a result of loathing the situations that are given to us, yet one that is flawed in other areas. It comes down to what the viewer hopes to gain from watching it. There are those that might learn more from this than I have or find the characters to be sympathetic and likeable. I commend Kim for not making it a pretentious piece of work but I find that his abstract way of characterization can often make or break his films. Technically he's brilliantly minded, idealistically he raises fine points but overall his weakness that lies in character development is what breaks this film. My understanding is that no matter what profession you are in you are still a human with reasons for doing whatever you do. Kim does not give us reasoning, he does not seem to care with this aspect of life, and he just tells us how it is.


Tartan presents us with an excellent DVD that sees them improving greatly as distributors.


The main menu is nicely animated and features the poster art as its basis. Kim Seon-hwa looks into the mirror where the face of Han-gi spookily appears and disappears in a repeating process, to the left we see various shots from the film play out on a red background. A brilliant piece of music taken from the film is also used and creates a nicely polished screen. Scene selection, set up and extras feature screens are static affairs using different shots from the film.


Bad Guy is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The film has many specks and flashes of dirt but they do not distract. It is something that appears in Kim's films and I don't usually see them as a problem, they work with the gritty nature well. In honesty they're not bad enough to warrant a thorough clean up.

The overall image is sharp, with strong colour definition and solid black levels. There is grain running throughout which I believe is down to the film stock used. Kim’s film benefits from this in the end.


The DVD has four audio tracks: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS Digital Surround 5.1, Dolby 2.0 and finally a 2.0 audio commentary track (which I shall get to later).
Bad Guy has many atmospheric moments, from rainy scenes to moments of violence and the sound is nicely separated, with plenty of voices to make out in the background during particular crowded night scenes.

The optional English subtitles are excellent, both well timed and easy to read.

Extras - All extras come with optional English subtitles.

Audio Commentary with Kim-Ki-duk and Cho Jae-hyun
The director and lead actor talk about their experiences working on this film which makes for an insightful track as Kim talks passionately about his methods of filmmaking. Interesting points are that he rarely re-shoots scenes, with the exception here being a head shot early on in the film. A brilliant artist if ever there was one, his pre planned scenes turn out just as he envisions them. He and Cho also discuss initial casting and how they were pleased with the end results while Kim also goes on to talk about how he is often criticized for his depiction of violence. Toward the end of the commentary the director moves on to the interpretive effects of his film, not willing to offer any rationality or deep exploration into his characters, he simply says that the viewer should make up their own mind. Kim and Cho are pleasant people to listen to and Kim is ever fascinating, while it's especially nice to have an audio commentary I can understand due to it being subtitled.

Cast Interviews
Interviews with Cho Jae-hyun, Seo Won, Choi Duk-moon, Kim Jeong-young and Kim Yoon-tae. These interviews each last between five and seven minutes and offer some good information with regards to each character. The actors/actresses talk enthusiastically about their roles and experiences working with the director.

Behind the Scenes Featurette
The making of Bad Guy runs for just six and a half minutes. There is no dialogue during the short featurette (until the last 30 seconds) that plays to various pieces of music from the film. We see shots of storyboards, behind the scene montages and cast gatherings. It is of little interest, only having a few nice shots of Seo Won enjoying herself when it comes to showing cast members.

Original Theatrical Trailer
Running for two minutes, this like many other Korean film trailers features spoilers and I advise you to watch the film before seeing this.

Stills Gallery
This is a collection of photographs that play out to the soundtrack, running for six minutes. This is a really nice collection that features many shots not seen in the film, alternative angles and cast and crew shots.

Asia Extreme Trailer Reel
Trailers for the following Tartan DVDs: The Eye, Infernal Affairs, Battle Royale, Audition, Dark Water and A Snake of June.


Bad Guy often appears to be a morally confusing piece of work, something that Kim Ki-duk tends to struggle with on occasion. For all his ideas he finds it a difficult task to explain them properly, this in turn makes his films open for interpretation which may or may not be accepted by some viewers. Kim continues to grow however and as time goes on he finds new ways to express his concerns, it's his nature to do so and no matter how he goes about it he always leaves a mark with each film. Bad Guy is no exception. It will make you think about certain points in life, even if it fails to offer engaging characters.

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out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:25:08

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