For our final three movies of this year's TIFF, we picked what we thought were action thrillers from three different countries - Korea, USA and Hong Kong - this would go with the Norwegian movie "Headhunters" that we saw earlier.
While the movie is following this main plotline, it is fast paced, humourous and exciting, with car chases and fight sequences living up to the standards of the best action thrillers. Through it all, Gun-Ho is the cool, detached man of mystery with a squint that Clint Eastwood would be proud of.
It seems to be typical of Korean movies (based on the three we've seen so far) to include a maudlin, overly sentimental storyline tacked on to any film genre, be it a comedy or an action movie like this one. In the case of Countdown, the subplot dealt with how Gun-Ho's Downs Syndrome son died. It was as if we had moved onto a different movie without noticing.
Other culturally specific details in the movie involved a collection agent on his knees with his hands in the air to show shame for his bad collection results, and a huge gangster kowtowing to his boss when being being berated for not finding Ha-Yeon. You don't find such details in Western films.
The first scene parallels Pulp Fiction with Violet and Daisy carry on mundane, girlish chatter before jumping into killer mode to execute their latest hit. The juxtaposition of the innocent, fresh-faced youths dressed up as nuns no less, firing automatic weapons with professional skill and detachment to massacre a gang of thugs twice their sizes, makes for a jarring yet hilarious scene.
At this point, the movie becomes more like a dialogue-driven stage play with the 3 main characters holding lengthy conversations that delve into each others psyches and motivations. In between are various scenes of violence, such as when other gang members also show up to dispatch the man, leading to a gun battle with Violet and Daisy that results in the squeamishly funny "internal bleeding dance".
The entire movie has a surreal, fable-like aura. Taken at face value it is very entertaining but you get the feeling that the director is trying to convey so much more, if you could only figure out what!
Our final film was "Living Without Principles" by Hong Kong director Johnny To, and starring Ritchie Ren. We had seen these two before in previous TIFF movies like Accident and Fire of Conscience and based on those movies, we were looking forward to an action packed shoot 'em up, blow 'em up type of film.
When it was all over, not a single gun was fired or bomb exploded. Even the scene where the loan shark was killed was more a comedy of errors resulting in his death. The only other violent scene was tinged with humour as a small time gangster gets his comeuppance when he tries to hack into his boss' computer systems to recover from a huge stock market loss. In retribution, the boss stabs him with a fencing foil with a diamond encrusted flower shaped hilt. The gangster trying to drive himself to the hospital with a flowered spike sticking out of his chest induced laughter from the crowd.
Richie Ren's policeman role and storyline was quite superfluous and did nothing to advance the plot. It was like the role was tacked on so that the big named star could be attached to the movie. Since we watched the last showing of this movie, the director had already returned to Hong Kong so there was no Q&A after the showing.
So of the four action movies that we watched, only Headhunters was a traditional thriller from start to finish. The others all deviated from the genre's formula, to varying degrees of success.
All in all, it was a good TIFF for us this year with no really bad picks. Looking forward to next year when we can do it again.