Rough Cut 영화는 영화다 2008 – S. Korea


Rough Cut 영화는 영화다 (2008)

With a heightened awareness for action details, the violence and tough guy tropes here are attached to newer molds for fiction. Jang Hoon’s Rough Cut delivers a swollen gangster’s narrative with a dark and gritty sheen. And, although it has many layers, extra subplots, and a longer than necessary runtime, its ability to drag two flawed, self-centered characters with differing beginnings together for a shared, meta-mafia kind of shoot ’em up, -fights within fights- it is worth your time.

Muddy Meta Mafia

That message/mission woven within its two hours, for characters to hold the desire and then action to become someone else, begs an important question: when you get good at it, impersonating said someone , are you really that other? for now? forever? It’s a point of interest often delved into with cinema (voyeurism and wanting another’s pov), and Hoon’s cast of actors, most noticeably leads So Ji-sub (as Gang-pae) and Kang Ji-hwan (as Jang Soo-ta), make the plot dilemmas wonderful and engaging, worth your time to explore, however complex and seemingly bloated.


It’s a shame that the writing tries to fit so much into a simple and small story, but I think it works still to tell you a tale of opportunity and the joys of chasing and working the process of becoming someone special, other than you. It’s nearly all about jealousy, but so very unique, of seeking to become a star when you’re really not. As you’ll see, scrapes and scars, well, even with makeup, don’t hide your natural side, and toughness doesn’t come so naturally.


Gang-pae is a ruthless gangster leader, and he has no mercy for those that damage the reputation of his organization. He often reports to his imprisoned boss to tell him of deleted problems and peoples–successful corrections for their plans to be the biggest and baddest gang in town–, and all fear him. When we see a lighter side of his darkness though, of him going to the cinema to watch and study and idolize action films, especially those that hold a lamp at star actor Jang Soo-ta and his repertoire for spouting greasy smooth action guy lines, holding his guns, and raising of fists for bruising kinds of violence, we cannot help but appreciate him, understand him, even if he’s sometimes menacing and fierce. That chin hair of his though has to go. Intimidate it does not do.


An opportunity comes up for him to act in a movie when idol star Jang Soo-ta is working on a local picture shoot. Because no professional will work with the actor because of a highly publicized aggresion he has, Soo-ta asks this very real gangster to join. Pe wants very badly to take the opportunity, but his doing so will raise questions for his boss and partners. One doesn’t want to appear weak when expected to be macho and dark, somber, also evil. Hmm, the choice is tough.


It’s worth the risk he reckons, but there’s a condition too: Jang Soo-ta and the crew, the director and producers, must not choreograph the fight scenes. It’s either spur of the moment bare-knuckles brawling on set between him and actor Jang or no deal. Jang is spunky and spry and free, aggressive we soon learn. He’s hip to the requests, and so he nods in agreement. They’ll really fight, to learn of the other from oozing blood, cuts, and nicks from kicks, jumps, and punches.


The gangster’s organization gets into troubling times during the shoot though, and they need Gang-pe to put the script aside and correct issues from within. When he doesn’t, deciding to more fully embrace his role on set,–becoming actually happy– the proverbial shite really hits the fan. At the same time, Jang’s life begins to peel apart too. Though they won’t admit it, their spending more time together is beneficial, easing their soon slips exile from their respective followers, Gang-pe’s dark-life gang and fans and agent of Jang’s supposed higher one.


Some would argue it’s beneficial they spend more time together. I just think it’s fun. As you will see, it never ends up neat and tidy. Would you assume otherwise? Their arms and legs will be bloodied and dirtied by the end of this. It just has to you tell yourself. Just has to.


What makes this really interesting are the intricate transitions from scenes inside then out, working to prove to you that things are part of the fictional film within a film first, luxurious and grand-schemed. No, wait, part of the real film first and then the inside one? Um, what? Perhaps there’s too much meta going on, but it’s really truly putting in an effort for you to like it.


At times it seems the characters onscreen, especially while watching movies, seem to look toward us for assistance, for comfort, to look to them with approval of their choices. Hey viewer, you. Am I doing alright? Don’t look at me, I’m just as confused as you are little fictional buddy, and simplifying the in-between elements, the details that tell of an inside out function for narrative, can become discomforting.


The aesthetics are beautiful, as pretty as violence can be, and that one last fight scene, in the mud, is gorgeous. The touches to turn tropes of the movie making process are inwardly insightful and personal. Making the fictional film within a film’s director Mr. Bong somewhat pudgy, tee-shirted, and always drunk, is funny. You’ll think of other famous auteur ones like Coppola and Kubrick that resemble him, like, hey, Lucas even, save for the plaid flannel button downs expected of parody versions of him (Robot Chicken did this right?), and the crew around Bong are made to appear as if of disillusioned fools. They’re saying it too: don’t look at me. It wasn’t their idea to make it this complicated. And then another question: are they of the real film’s set watching us–our reactions–, or are they really on-set for the fictional film within a film only watching the actors? Aye, my head hurts.


It’s only sometimes boring. For the rest of it though, some time of an hour and twenty minutes, you’ll enjoy the cinematography, of earthy and dialed down tones. The acting (*cough, within acting?) is nicely performed, and the director has me piqued to scour the web for more of his offerings. The last few frames alone I want to keep pictures of, very dark and, dare I say, revealing–changing the message and meaning of the film’s whole entirely? Please, let me know.


It’s not the smoothest ride to hop up on, but it’s certainly not the roughest cut I’ve seen. It’s sure to excite and confuse, and I didn’t even mind I ran out of popcorn before the end of it. Because it asks us to reflect on the action of idolizing and wanting to be more fantastical and action-packed than we really are, I enjoyed it more than I wanted to, and that’s saying something.

All images copyright © Kim Ki-Duk Film, Evokative FIlms, Broadmedia Studios, Asian Crush, Digital Media Rights