Sin-ui hansu

Synopsis: Framed for his brother’s murder and sent to prison, skilled “Go” player Tae-seok spends each day of his sentence preparing for revenge. After he’s released, he joins forces with a “Go” master to ambush the real killers.

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Sin-ui hansu 5.25

eyelights: Jung Woo-sung. its baduk theme.
eyesores: its poor storytelling. its cheesy characters. its needlessly brutal violence. its endless action scenes.

One of my friends is a huge fan of baduk (otherwise known in North America as “Go”), one of the world’s most popular strategy games. When our local Korean Cultural Center decided to hold a screening of ‘Sin-ui hansu’, a Korean motion picture revolving around baduk, he sent me an invitation.

Intrigued, I immediately booked my tickets.

A box office hit in 2014, ‘Sin-ui hansu’ tells the story of Tae-seok, a young baduk genius, who gets sucked into the underground gambling scene when his brother enlists him to help him win against a local crime lord. Naturally this does not go well: his brother is murdered and Tae-seok winds up in jail.

Upon his release, Tae-seok plans his revenge.

‘Sin-ui hansu’ is basically a gritty action film with a few baduk matches thrown in – and nearly all of the games are excuses for an inevitably bloody melée. And it gets pretty bloody. And brutal. It’s likely that this was the filmmakers’ attempt to excite audiences unfamiliar with the strategies in baduk.

So the picture is basically a recurring loop of:

Baduk

Fight fight fight

Go go go

Baduk

Fight fight fight

Go go go

Baduk

Fight fight fight

Go go go

…etc.

Until the end.

I was pretty bored. Firstly, I was numbed by the endless violence, which I felt was generally gratuitous. Secondly, I don’t understand a whit of baduk, though I’ve played it; give me chess any day instead. Thirdly, the story and the characters’ motivations often didn’t seem to make sense to me.

Perhaps it was lost in translation: though the screening was presented with English subtitles, they were of such poor quality that much of what was said was nonsensical. I’ve seen worse, true, but I wasn’t sure if the characters were purposely espousing flowery/cryptic oriental dicta or not.

Don’t think! Fight fight fight!

It’s also very likely that ‘Sin-ui hansu’ was simply saddled with a poor script: it’s pretty much a paint-by-number Asian martial arts revenge story. And it’s full of holes, like: Why was Tae-seok jailed? Wiki claims he was framed for his brother’s murder, but a child could tell that he wasn’t involved…

Or where did he get the chalk to draw on his cell walls with? And how could he communicate with the person in the next cell without attracting attention of his jailers? And why was the warden playing with a low level baduk player if there was such a brilliant one in the cell next to Tae-seok?

Who cares! Fight fight fight!

Anyway, since Tae-seok had seen his brother’s murder with own eyes, he knew who the culprit was. So why contrive this extended plot to get at the villain? Just get him. Period. Oh, right: there’d be no movie otherwise. And we wouldn’t get to see so many delightful fistfights and games of baduk.

Speaking of baduk, I was surprised to see that almost all of the characters cheat in this movie. If baduk is supposed to be revered for its finesse and complexity, then shouldn’t its players’ skill be spotlighted here? Nah. Instead they’re using all sorts of methods to cheat on one another, cheater vs cheater.

Oh, look! Fight fight fight!

Despite being a simplistic, simple-minded picture, somehow ‘Sin-ui hansu’ manages to cobble its clichés together poorly: scenes follow each other in a frequently ramshackle way. In fact, it was sometimes impossible to know who was the focus of the film and the chronology was even a little wonky.

It’s as though the editor had no knack for storytelling.

But, wait! Fight fight fight!

The performances are exactly what you’d expect from this type of movies: caricatures. While Jung Woo-sung is suitably realistic in the lead, many of the other actors overplay their parts. Is it a genre convention? Or does a movie like this one naturally attract weaker performers?

I really wish I knew.

In any event, their parts weren’t really worth their time: though the picture follows multiple characters, they tend to be fairly disposable. It’s as though the filmmakers wanted to market a large cast (maybe the actors are all known entities in Korea), but didn’t quite know what to do with them.

Oh, I know! Fight fight fight!

The worst of it is the lone female character: Bae-kkob is supposedly a master baduk player who retired young and now runs in the underground in some unclear capacity. She’s sort of used as a love interest for Tae-seok. But not. She’s sort of in league with the bad guy. But not. She’s fierce.

Um…

But not.

WTF.

Ultimately, ‘Sin-ui hansu’ culminates with a risible happy ending that comes out of nowhere, finding (nearly) everyone still alive and together, like a happy family. It’s a fitting conclusion to a picture that just doesn’t give a crap at all about creating real characters, situations and outcomes.

All it wants is to fight fight fight!

Baduk be damned.

Date of viewing: March 30, 2017

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