HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:80
Korean cinema has very slowly, but very surely started taking over the role as king of Asian cinema in the last decade. Once upon a time, Hong Kong Cinema reigned supreme as lord of the epic action movie, but within the last few years I have been thoroughly impressed with what has been coming out of Korea. “War of the Arrow”, “Commitment”, “Kundu”, “New World”, have all impressed and shown that Jackie Chan and Jet Li aren’t the only one who can rule the silver screen. I was very pleasantly surprised when I cracked open “Kundo” as I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the film. It lists a Robin Hoodish type of plot as the hook, but the film doesn’t just try and copy an old English tale, but infuses it with classic period piece drama, incredible martial arts action, and even a bit of Wire-Fu for good measure. Light and airy, it keeps the humor flowing as smoothly as the blood and I never once had to look at my watch, even with a nearly 2 ¼ hour running time.
It’s a time of corruption, and power struggles as the rich dominate the weak and the poor. Government officials are living off the fat of the land and watching their subjects starve in ancient Korea. In this time of corruption and greed, two men will rise to power, destined to face in in a bloody battle of supremacy. One is Jo-Yoon (Dong-won Kang), the illegitimate son of a local official. Born from a concubine he is the only male heir to his father, Lord Jo, and thus begrudgingly given a seat at the table of luxury. This all changes when Lord Jo’s wife becomes pregnant with a male heir and poor Jo-Yoon is kicked to the curb. Beaten, abused and treated as an outside, Jo-Yoon grows up with a bitterness in his heart and a cruel streak a mile wide. After his half-brother is killed in a bandit raid, he sees the opportunity to gain the power he’s always wanted in the form of trying to kill his half-brother’s new born child. Captured by the Chusul bandits, the mother and child are spirited away in to the night leaving Jo-Yoon desperate to find and kill the infant.
Now, this is where our hero steps in to the picture, for born the same time as Jo-Yoon, Dolmuchi (Jung-Woo Ha) is born in the lowest possible caste in Korean society. A simple butcher, with desires and temperament of a simple man, Dolmuchi is thrust in to greatness when he is charged with the secret task of sneaking in to the bandit camp and killing the woman and child. When Dolmuchi has an attack of conscience and cannot complete the task, Jo-Yoon has his mother and sister murdered, leaving Dolmuchi scarred and burned for the rest of his life. Seeing his potential, the captain of the Chosul bandits interferes with the execution of the butcher and givens him the option to make things better for the people of Korea by joining their fight against the corrupt government. Reborn as Dochi, the butcher of animals is turned into a fighting machine of incredible power. Raiding government supply trains and causing a general havoc for the officials is all well and good, but when Jo-Yoon starts stealing land from the people with the help of a bought off governor, the Chosul bandits realize they have to make their big play.
Going after Jo-Yoon takes skill and a cool mind, and Dochi barely is able to hold his wrath at bay, desiring the head of his families butcher above all else. Biting the bullet, he and the bandits create an ingenious plan to pull Jo-Yoon away from the palace while they redistribute the stolen food and goods back to the people. The only thing they underestimated was Jo-Yoon’s determination and cruelty, for upon returning back to the palace he captures the Chosul leader and tortures the location of the rest of the bandits out of him. Turning the tables on our heroes, there is only a handful left standing, including a very ticked off Dochi. Now, with nothing to lose, the young butcher turned bandit makes the trek back to the palace, with only one thing on his mind…….Vengeance.
I was surprised and ecstatic with how well “Kundo” turned out. Director Jong-Bin Yun obviously had a love of the Spaghetti Western genre as he masterfully blends a martial arts drama about a Korean Robin Hood in with some very obvious Spaghetti Western tropes. We have the basic Robin hood story, complete with an evil lord draining his people dry, a band of outlaws who dance just outside of his grasp and even a group of a merry men complete with a giant of man who can rival Little John, a Monk, and a knife wielding Will Scarlett. Draped in Korean folk lore, the tale is just filled with tons of incredible hand to hand combat and weapons play of all kinds. Jo-Yoon steals the stage as the incredible fighter, able to slaughter men by the dozens with his blades and skill, but Dochi is the real heart of soul of the story. He is played well, given a slightly dopey personality, with some really unique ticks that set him apart from the rest. His mastery of the butcher blades gives him a ferocious nature that rivals Jo-Yoon’s skill with his aggressive barbarian nature, creating a perfect foil for the evil lord. The rest of the bandits are just as endearing, as the film dances around the dark nature of the plot with plenty of humor and wit, allowing it soften the blow quite a bit.
There are a few downsides to the film, as I felt the humor sometimes lost in translation, but those instances were few and far between. As much as I loved the Robin Hood theme, I also wished there had been a bit more tweaking of the story to change up the generic Robin Hood script. However, I was truly amazed at the inclusion of the score as instead of a typical Asian score Jong-Bin Yun incorporated a tweaked Western track that made you feel as if Clint Eastwood was going to ride on set with his famous cigar. Infusing the film with a hybrid feel, the score flows throughout the movie allowing it to appeal to multiple facets of my film enjoyment and creates a film that I honestly loved from beginning to end. The actors were impressive, the sets are simply marvelous, and the martial arts sequences were top notch. One of my favorite movies that has come out of Well Go USA for quite a while.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=30617[/img]When done right the Korean, Hong Kong and Chinese films can look simply resplendent, and I’m not just talking about the encode. Shot in 2.40:1 scope, “Kundo” looks almost immaculate with slightly diffused and desaturated color palette, with lots of light grey, blue and yellows dominating the movie. Clarity and detail are not affected as the film has a nice layer of grain that combined with exceptional fine detail will have your jaw on the floor. The extravagant and luscious looking costumes pop out of the screen and you can see bursts of pink, white, black and blue push their way through the desaturated and earthy looking costumes of the bandits. There is some softness as the image IS a bit diffused stylistically and there is a hanging scene that when you zoom in looks really poor, but that is only for a moment. Black levels are deep and inky, giving us plenty of shadow detail in the night raid scenes without crushing or macroblocking under the dead of night. The disc has been given a nice healthy bitrate, so I didn’t notice any banding, macroblocking or other compression related issues to my critical eye. Ironically the only banding I noticed was in the fade away during movie’s menu.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=30625[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA Korean language track is quite impressive, although I felt a little more LFE could have been used. The dialogue is clear and focused in the front sound stage and the there is a nice, rich dynamic range with the rest of the track. I loved the constant surround usage, and never felt that they were running hot, as many recent action movies try to keep that feeling of immersion up by boosting the back channels. Battle scenes are appropriately directional and you can hear the shift of the effects as a blade crashes into a bamboo tree on the left and the whistling of an arrow as it traverses from one side of the stage to the other. LFE is nice and rich, adding a bit of a nice low end to the film. My only complaint is that while it made its presence known, there were several times where I expected a tad more power from the mix and was left wanting. LFE aside, the track is excellent and gives your home theater quite the workout with excellent voice clarity and some very subtle use of the environmental noises. There is even a nice high bitrate 2.0 track for night listening that has been optimized much better than your typical down mix for 2.0 listening.
“Kundo” came out of left field, as the bland cover art really didn’t get my fire going, if you know what I mean, but when I popped it in to the player I was tickled pink to discover a movie that captivated me from beginning to end. The ingenious method of blending a 1970’s Spaghetti Western with a period piece Korean take on Robin Hood had me grinning from ear to ear and really wishing the movie wasn’t over (even after a 2 hour and 17 minute runtime). There’s a few stumbles along the way, but “Kundo” rolls with the punches, never taking itself TOO seriously, giving just the right of humor to keep you chuckling and plenty of hand to hand combat scenes to keep us action junkies cheering. The video and audio are top notch and I honestly can’t see why I shouldn’t recommend this one to anyone who loves a good Asian epic/action movie. Highly Recommended.
Starring: Jung-woo Ha, Dong-won Kang, Ye-ri Han
Directed by: Jong-bin Yun
Written by: Cheol-Hong Jeon
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: Korean: 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Korean 2.0 DD Stereo
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 137 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: October 21st 2014
Buy Kundo Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
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