It was only a matter time before Korean ‘outcast’ director Kim Ki-Duk would try his hand in producing and writing a film less cryptic than “The Isle” and “3-Iron”, and script a film a little more mainstream. “ROUGH CUT” has the literal Korean title “ a movie is a movie”, is helmed by Jang Hun, who was Kim’s assistant director in “Time”. “Rough Cut” has a very interesting premise, and serves as a character study of two individuals with strong similarities; yet so different because of the world that revolves around them.
Hounded by paparazzi everywhere he goes, actor Soo-ta (Ji-Hwan Kang) becomes increasingly agitated and frustrated, to the point that he critically injures his co-star during filming. With the filming stopped and his producers breathing down his neck, Soo-Ta feels responsible for making sure that the filming continues, but the problem is, no one wants to act with him because of his less than stellar reputation. Desperate, Soo-Ta recruits a real gangster, Gang Pae (So Ji-Seob) who he met a few nights ago while drinking in a bar. Gang Pae had childhood dreams of becoming an actor, in fact, he starred as an extra in a movie long ago. Gang Pae agrees to co-star in the movie, in one odd condition; all the violence in the movie will have to be real instead of choreographed.
The screenplay by Kim Ki-Duk weaves a very unpredictable path, director Jang Hun mixes in elements that come from a dark gangster movie, a movie within a movie, all around the concept of a study of two distressed protagonists which are shown very much alike even though the world they live in is entirely different. In the first act, the film does exhibit a idiosyncratic sense of humor, with plenty of subtle jokes. Gang-Pae is the Korean word for “gangster” while Soo-Ta is a play on the English word “star”. Also, the name of the fictional director is “Bong”, which is probably a play on director Bong who directed “The Host”. Kim bad-mouthed that film’s success as it became a blockbuster hit in Korea. Kim’s other gangster film, “Green Fish” is also shown as minor snippets in “Rough Cut”. Maybe Kim was trying to make fun of himself.
Now let’s put aside the film’s humor. The film does delve into the curious parallels in Soo-Ta and Gang Pae’s life, how one is more based on fantasy and complications are mostly a result of one’s fame. One is about the harsh realities of life, Gang Pae’s gangster life that makes his existence very difficult. The film does have the tremendous potential to be too complicated, but thankfully the script is kept adaptable and pretty linear. One other thing I also noticed is that the film’s screenplay became darker, more violent as the movie progresses, as the viewer becomes more privy to Gang Pae’s life. The central focus are the two main characters’ lives, although I have to say that Gang Pae takes center stage, and actor Ji-Seob So does manage to bring out a great performance.
The two actors do form a dynamic chemistry, but Ji-Seob So does slowly take over the film with this calm but intense demeanor, as the film becomes his movie. Ji-Hwan Kang does make for a good screen presence, but he felt a little overshadowed with So’s performance. The two also has their love interests, Eun-Seon (played by Hie Jin Jang) is the reluctant girlfriend who hates being in the position of hiding. Mi-Nah (played by sexy Soo-Hyun Hong) is the exact opposite, she seems to be attracted to Gang Pae’s grim appeal, and believes he’s a man with a good heart stuck in a bad situation.
The film has its share of good fight scenes, but frankly they’re not the film’s showstopper. The final fight between Gang Pae and Soo-Ta was pretty good, and nicely shot. The climax does deliver on the emotions, and nicely brings ‘realism’ into exposition. The film does have its share of weaknesses. It becomes a little too “tongue and cheek” on occasion, and while the groundwork of the character study is nicely laid out, it doesn’t really address the duality between the two main characters. The script became a little distracted by its own digressions and the third act can make the occasional movie watcher scratch his head. Also, the film requires a large suspension of disbelief, since no ruthless, tough as nails gangster would do such a thing in real life. The film does make some hackneyed mistakes, that it swerved a little off its direction.
But despite some plot gaffs. “Rough Cut” does make its premise work, and the screenplay stays grounded enough to stay with its momentum. The great performances, and the identity issues combined with a few familiar “Kim” qualities, the film is entertaining enough to keep you interested. I admit, the film should have achieved more visceral and narrative impact, but nonetheless, “Rough Cut” wouldn’t have much difficulty winning over its audience.