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Feature


Abandoned by his mother shortly after immigrating to America, Gon (Jang Dong-gun) is raised by the mafia and grows up to become a cold-blooded hit man. Though usually flawless in taking out his targets, Gon makes a terrible mistake of killing an innocent young girl. A flood of guilt takes over his life and the situation becomes worse when his boss assigns him the job of killing the young girl’s mother. Gon’s new target, Mogyeong (Kim Min-hee), is a risk manager at an investment firm and has buried herself in work to bury her grief. She is completely unaware of her role at the heart of a dangerous conspiracy. Finally, she meets the man who wants to tell her the truth behind the death of her child. (From Well Go’s official synopsis)

 No Tears for the Dead
With only three films under his belt, writer/director Lee Jeong-beom has made a sizable impact on South Korean cinema. He followed up his dramatic, multi-award nominated debut, Cruel Winter (2006), with a multi-award winning action/crime hybrid The Man From Nowhere (2011), which gained him worldwide attention. His latest, No Tears for the Dead (released as Crying Man in Korea), is a pretty standard, boiler-plate crime thriller, but is highlighted with smooth style, strong performances, and tight action to pull it through a number of cliché-ridden story elements.

I’ll discuss the problems first. As stated, No Tears for the Dead is a standard issue Korean crime drama. Like John Woo’s Hong Kong films (and a number of other films about hitmen), it is concerned with the myth of redemption and Lee seems constantly stuck between cynicism and sentimentality. The colliding characters and storylines don’t always interlock quite as gracefully as intended, creating a situation where subplots feel especially extraneous and narrative intersections become needlessly confusing. I admit, as usually, that I’m generally not very good at keeping up with espionage stories, but think that convolution robs many of Lee’s twists of their punch. Some of the film’s tonal issues can be attributed to the differences in dramatic shifts inherent in modern Korean cinema, though there are a few supposedly heart-breaking moments that play out as inadvertent satire. Complaints aside, I really enjoyed the oddball flourishes, like a sequence in the men’s bathroom, where English-speaking villains aren’t sure if a Korean-speaking female janitor has understood the top secret plans they were just discussing.

 No Tears for the Dead
The drawn-out, overlong middle act is a bit of a chore, but eventually builds to a super tense, gory, and protracted battle just after the one-hour mark that allows Lee to shrug off the heavy narrative and show off his more visceral skills with a stream of brutal action scenes that don’t require a whole lot of exposition. These action sequences are the highlights of the movie, but the direction is top notch throughout, recalling Michael Mann’s neon crime epics and John Woo’s aforementioned honour-obsessed, bullet-ballet melodramas. Lee just updates the formulas with modern digital photography and flashy montage editing. No Tears for the Dead proves that Lee has a handle on at least the visual balance between fisticuffs and plotting. Even when indulging in quick cuts and swift camera movements, the compositional continuity between the low-energy expositional sequences and their brutal action makes sense. The imagery is also more eclectic in terms of colour schemes and location types than Man From Nowhere, thanks possibly in part to the participation of cinematographer Lee Mo-gae, a frequent collaborator with Kim Jee-woon.

 No Tears for the Dead

Video


No Tears for the Dead is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and full 1080p HD video. Lee and cinematographer Lee Mo-gae shot the film using Sony CineAlta F65 digital HD cameras. Based on the depth of the structural compositions and stylized colour schemes, it seems to me that Mo-gae brought a lot to this particular film. Locations are often dark and focus is often shallow, but rarely at the risk of fine details or complex textures. Layers cut nicely against each other, black levels are strong, and colours blend without becoming blobby. Lee and the other Lee use different filters and palettes to represent different locations and timelines and the digital artefacts usually follow suit. Some scenes are smoothly graded and lit with hyper-vivid red and lavender neon hues. Some are more mechanical with fluorescent blue and green bases as well as a stronger tendency for edge enhancement and noise. Daylight scenes feature stronger, warmer lighting schemes, but also have some issues with sharpening effects and aliasing. And a select few flashbacks are purposefully overblown and covered in digital grain. Few of the artefacts are consistent enough to blame on compression issues and I noticed very little in terms of banding, which has been an issue for Well Go releases in the past. Other Sony CineAlta-shot films can suffer quite a bit of ghosting and blurring during camera moves, but I noticed none of this here.

 No Tears for the Dead

Audio


Well Go USA’s Blu-ray comes fitted with Korean and English dub tracks, in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 PCM varieties. For this review, I, of course, defaulted to the Korean track, though, as mentioned in the feature section, Lee tells an awful lot of the film without any language at all. It’s also probably important to note that several scenes in the movie include English language sequences (as well as some Spanish). The track is always clean, but the punch of the sound design can be a mixed bag. The poppy action scenes are uniformly fantastic, including explosive gunshots, shattering glass, and zippy, multi-directional fist and knife fights. The best of the quieter scenes are rich with ambience and pin-pointed incidental effects, many of which feature directional enhancement. Choi Yong-rak’s music alternates between big, warm string sounds and digitally produced underscore. Percussive moments consistently vibrate the LFE channel, though, and even the less impressive music gets a pretty wide stereo representation.

 No Tears for the Dead

Extras


  • An interview with Lee that is confusingly labeled as ‘Director’s Commentary’ (3:20, HD)
  • The Making of No Tears for the Dead (27:10, HD) – A typical, but well-produced Korean language EPK
  • Deleted scenes (6:50, HD, possible frame rate issues)              
  • English language interview with actor Brian Tee (2:10, HD)    
  • Character Spot (TV spot): Mogyeong (:50, HD)
  • Character Spot (TV Spot: Gon (:50, HD)          
  • Behind-the-scenes footage and interviews (3:20)  
  • Action highlights (2:00, HD)
  • Trailers


 No Tears for the Dead

Overall


Fans of Lee Jeong-beom’s last film, The Man From Nowhere, and similar South Korean crime dramas will probably find a lot to love about No Tears for the Dead. Those of us that aren’t bowled over by the plot-heavy first act still have a lot to enjoy in the bloody and kinetic last half. Well Go USA’s Blu-ray disc looks very nice, despite being slightly hampered by digitally filtered photography, sounds good where it counts (action scenes), and features some decent behind-the-scenes footage.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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