"What do you want me to say? Every breath we take is a lie..."
Tattoo artist, Baek Jang-mi (Son Ye-jin), is also the boss of a gang of highly skilled Korean pickpockets (the Samsung gang) who are running riot in Osaka, Japan, to the increasing embarrassment of the Japanese and Korean police forces. When the gang returns to Korea, to continue its activities there, a police task force is set up to bring an end to the ongoing crime wave, but one member of the police force in particular, Lieutenant Jo Dae-young (Kim Myeong-min), is clearly reluctant to join the task force, no matter how much cajoling his superiors give him.
However, when saves a beautiful girl from another gang of pickpockets (while investigating a separate case), and subsequently discovers that the girl he rescued was none other than Baek Jang-mi, he finally realises that he has little alternative but to get involved and bring her (and her cohorts) to justice once and for all.
But his ongoing family ties, lingering psychological scars, and growing feelings for Jang-mi soon present him with some difficult choices to make...
Open City begins decently enough with the police catching a group of gangsters, via multiple car crashes and violent hand-to-hand combat. The visuals (especially of the neon lit cityscape) are stunning, coming across as part of a no expense spared, top notch urban action film, but, sadly, that's about as good as it gets.
A rather predictable, and unimaginative, plot serves only to give the feeling of repeatedly being told information which is already blatantly obvious, even without explanation, and several severely contrived story twists, combined with somewhat unbelievable character decisions and motivations, all add up to Open City becoming an increasingly frustrating watching experience.
Lieutenant Jo clearly excels at pious rants about right and wrong, but never comes across as the smartest cookie in the tin, with regard to the ongoing investigation. His fighting skills are supposedly exemplary, but repeated scenes showing him single-handedly beating up an entire group of gangsters (as well as one of Jang-mi's gang doing exactly the same) ultimately (and, obviously, accidentally) imply that the other gangs are really rather inept at their chosen profession, rather than giving any proof of Jo's physical abilities.
The cartoon-like characterisations of the various rival pickpocket gangs stretch credibility yet further, and one can only assume that the only reason that the criminals are not all already in jail is because the police are even more stupid than they are.
In fact, Baek Jang-mi is the only criminal, in almost the entire film, who seems to have any intelligence whatsoever (though even that is called into question towards the conclusion of the film) and, as a direct result, one of her earliest lines of dialogue ("You're all fools") increasingly becomes an apt (though unplanned) description of the majority of the characters.
As well as the aforementioned main storyline, there is also a sub-plot present which runs parallel to, and eventually intersects, it.
Dealing with Lieutenant Jo's mother, Kang Man-ok (Kim Hae-suk), and his relationship with her, it is a clear attempt to inject some emotional resonance into proceedings by way of a melodramatic underscore. Unfortunately, this too is pushed to unnecessary extremes; is handled nowhere near subtly enough and, combined once again with unrealistic plot twists and unbelievable motivations, ultimately fails.
With regard to the themes present, the most obvious seem to be the importance of family (as seen in Lieutenant Jo's broken relationship with his mother), and the increasing equality between the sexes in Korea (shown by Jang-mi's success in a predominately male-oriented business, and her noticeably superior intellect to that of her peers). Both of these ideas succeed as well as could be expected within the confines of the plot but, considering the lack of depth elsewhere, seem somewhat out of place at times.
As briefly stated earlier, cinematically Open City looks superb, with a great deal of effort being spent on both the frenetic action present and on sumptuous interiors for the growing relationship between Lieutenant Jo and Jang-mi.
The very contemporary musical soundtrack compliments the visuals well throughout, and it's just a shame that not as much care was taken with the plot itself.
The entire cast perform as well as their roles allow, but none are given a real opportunity to make their portrayals truly their own.
Of all the cast, Son Ye-jin (unsurprisingly) gives the most nuanced, and ultimately accomplished, performance, but it must be said that the decision to dress her in clothes with increasingly plunging necklines, and ever shortening mini-skirts (while very pleasing to the eye), actually lessens the believability of her character's ability to control men with her intellect, rather than just with her body; and adds to the feeling of a film full of clichéd caricatures, rather than fully formed characters.
Though visually accomplished, Open City is sadly hampered by a predictable, unimaginative plot and a set of characters that are little more than caricatures.
edition reviewed here is the Korean (Region 3) Release
from Fantom Entertainment, which consists of a single disc DVD package.
The film is
provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There are no image artifacts and no ghosting present, and the
picture remains consistently sharp and beautifully rich, with great depth of field throughout. The original Korean
language soundtrack is provided as Dolby Digital 5.1, and is clear and expansive, giving full justice to the very contemporary soundtrack. Excellent subtitles are provided
throughout the main feature.
There are no DVD extras on this single disc release.
Actors: Son Ye-jin, Kim Myeong-min, Kim Hae-suk
Directors: Lee Sang-gi
Format: NTSC, Widescreen
Subtitles: English, Korean, None
Region: Region 3
Number of discs: 1
Distributor: Fantom Entertainment
Run Time: 112 minutes