Die Bad Review
"Yahweh, I know that the way of man lies not within himself: It is not man who walks to direct his steps."
- Jeremiah 10:23
Released from prison seven years after killing a boy named Hyun-soo, Park Sung-bin now seeks the opportunity to start a new life. His elder brother gets him a job working at a garage for a friend. Things start off well but Sung-bin soon begins having ghostly visions of the boy he killed when he was a young man, just 20-years of age. As he walks home late one night, he witnesses a man being severely beaten by a gang of thugs. Initially Sung-bin hesitates to get involved with the fight but ultimately his conscious drives him to intervene. After saving the man we learn he is a gangster and in return this man teaches Sung-bin in the ways of the crime lord.
Die Bad is broken up into four parts:
Rumble: Two groups of opposing teens start off playing pool but soon they clash heads. In the midst of fighting, Sung-bin kills Hyun-soo and thus begins his descent into crime.
Nightmare: Seven years later, Sung-bin is released from prison. Upon returning home he finds that his father no longer cares about him. His elder brother gets him a job at a garage where a cop visits him several times but Sung-bin soon finds himself back out of work. It's not long before fate leads him once again along a rocky path.
Modern Man: Suk-hwan, an old friend of Sung-bin who was with him on the day of that fateful incident has now become a police officer. We see him on a stakeout; unbeknownst to Suk-hwan the man he is after is connected to Sung-bin.
Die Bad: Sung-bin has recruited a gang of youths, unaware that they are expendable and whose only purpose is to serve as knife fodder. Suk-hwan finally faces Sung-bin in a showdown; meanwhile Sung-bin's youth gang faces a horrific and bloody battle.
Director, Ryu Sung-Wan is certainly a director of raw talent and ingenuity. With a shoestring budget and cheap cameras, along with a few friends and family members he put together Die Bad, a film that showcased his ability for making stylish, energetic works. In 2002 to he went one better and delivered one of the most energetic and exciting films of that year - No Blood, No Tears.
Die Bad, like several other notable Korean films shifts much of its focus on social views of crime and education in Korea. In the film, frustrated by a tough education system and bullying teachers a student decides that he wishes to quit and join a gang, so that he may work his way up the ranks to success and retire when he's old to live an easy life. Stories like this tend to crop up often, it's a wonder when you actually think about it just how bad or desperate some youngsters living in South Korea feel, at least that's the impression that a few films give - My Boss, My Hero being one such example.
Ryu Sung-wan makes no illusions about the kind of story he wants to tell. This isn't a pretty picture; it's gritty, violent and paints a Korea that is seemingly declining in areas where it should be prospering. In 95 minutes he hammers at several issues that are of great importance, though it's more obvious if you've seen a handful of Korean films dealing with such issues before.
Gangster films are huge business in Korea, just how much they glorify the underworld is something only the Koreans would know but if you were to use films as a basis for learning then it would seem they have quite a bad situation. Admittedly, while I am heavily into Korean cinema I don't know much about the areas some of these films tackle, I can only assume that it is an ongoing problem that clearly many directors feel the need to discuss.
So, Ryu manages to successfully interweave tales of woe throughout the four-part structure. At first it would seem a little confusing but after the introduction of Nightmare things soon start to make sense, rather than looking like four separate short films about different subjects.
Employing a range of different camera techniques to tell his story Ryu chose to shoot the film in full frame, using documentary style footage that fleetingly switches angles from time to time, even breaking the fourth wall as characters begin to talk to the camera and discuss more about their jobs. While the message is clear the direction sometimes feels uneasy in approach, something though which seems quite deliberate at the same time. Each part seems to get even grittier as the film flows on. Part two and three become more noticeably grainy and saturated, while the last part of the film is shot in black and white.
As the film nears its climax it becomes more violent, the culmination of everything that has built up to this point. From the start we see kids embracing violence as if it was "cool", just like in the video games they play but the reality never strikes them until they actually feel a blade pierce their flesh.
Sung-wan directs the violence in a choppy, hectic manner that is dizzying rather than enjoyable to view. However, there is something about the action that is all the more realistic than say higher budget films with bigger action choreographers. Here, everyone fights clumsily. The young teens jump and kick, trying to emulate their martial arts heroes like Bruce Lee or the Tekken characters from the games they so often play.
The adults also kick, punch, miss, pull hair and never seem to show any grace. Truth be told, fights in real life are rubbish - this is how they are so in many ways while it might not be as visually aesthetic as say Jackie Chan's movies it does at least give the film an air of realism.
Not only does Ryu Sung-Wan direct but he also stars, alongside his brother and a few more recognisable faces. Fans of K cinema will identify Fun Movie's Im Won-hee as a detective and No Blood, No Tears star, Jung Jae-young in an earlier role playing Sung-bin's elder brother. The cast does a great job, playing believable characters that are all facing their descent in one way or another, whether it is into madness or just obscurity.
Die Bad is released as a single DVD by Starmax Entertainment.
Shot on a low budget in 1.33:1 the tone of the film matches the look of the source material. The transfer here is grainy, at times a little soft and exhibits a fair amount of wear and tear. It's not distracting however, as it feels right for the film.
The optional English subtitles are decent but omit sentences on at least three occasions. They don't seem to miss anything important though so I wasn’t too bothered.
The disc includes the film in its original Korean 2.0 mono track. Die Bad has a lot of dialogue, which is clear if not entirely crisp but that's part of the film's origins and is reproduced as well as can be expected on DVD.
Also present is a Director's Commentary though sadly, as with all Korean DVD releases it’s not subtitled.
Die Bad is given a healthy amount of features though like the commentary mentioned earlier none of them are subtitled.
Production Note (Storyboard) - Like it says, a collection of the film's storyboards, less of the production notes though.
Guest Interviews - Five short interviews from various well known Korean film makers, including Kim Ji-wun.
Staff Interviews - Crew members discuss in brief about working on the film.
Music Video with Music Director Commentary - Two music videos are featured. The commentary is actually a 3-minute interview, rather than an overlapping audio track on the videos as you'd be led to expect.
Still Gallery - A three minute collection of photos that play to a song from the film.
Deleted Scenes - Eight minutes of deleted footage with interviews.
Bonus Film - Perhaps the best feature on this DVD is the inclusion of "Dajimawa Lee", director Sung-wan's parody take on 70's martial arts movies, starring a few cast members from Die Bad. At 35 minutes long the film seems very lively and entertaining, with its poor dubbing and non-contact fighting but sadly the lack of subtitles means that western viewers cannot enjoy this.
Die Bad is a fine showcase for director Ryu Sung-Wan's talents. His methods for storytelling make for a more unique viewing experience but I don't think that the film will be to everyone's liking, particularly to those who prefer their action/drama to be on a larger scale. In addition, the message that is given may appear to be forced at times but this does not lessen the overall impact.