Movie of the Day – A Dirty Carnival
May 27, 2012 Leave a comment
Through my time of watching countless movies, you can get a little bit of tunnel vision so to speak. Genres tend to run together, particular films look like the other and you can get a bit burned out of watching movies again and again. Variety is the only thing that can break you out of the slump of blurred film lines, hopefully punching up a particular genre to get you excited about watching another zombie film or superhero movie. One genre in particular that I can’t only watch a few of before it gets stale are Gangster films. If you have seen one gritty, gangster film, you have probably seen them all. But the same could be said for any genre, so take it for what you will. Thankfully though, there are gangster films that don’t follow the same formula of the underling making his way to the top or the typical mafia don commanding the loyalty his group to rule for generations. Take the Infernal Affairs trilogy for example, it managed to offer and thrilling take on the mob genre by looking at both the law side of taking down mobs and the side in which the mob deals with law enforcements efforts to stop them. So I decided on a little International flavor this time around with a look at the Korean gangster film, A Dirty Carnival.
Byung-du is a 29-year-old career criminal, working for the middle-rank enforcer Sang-chul. Burdened with a terminally ill mother and taking care of younger siblings, Byung-du is feeling financial pressure as a substitute patriarch. When the big boss President Hwang is cornered by a corrupt prosecutor, Byung-du volunteers for a whack job and wins the big man’s trust. However, his real trouble begins when friend Min-ho, an aspiring movie director, asks him to be a consultant for the latter’s debut film. (source)
A Dirty Carnival is a refreshing, often brutal, gangster film that manages to utilize the familiar tropes of it’s counterparts, but inject an impressive cast and story with intense acting and characterization. The casting and subsequent acting is where the film gets it push out of the typical drones of gangster movies. Byung-du is the wide eyed career gangster who is doing what he can to make it up the chain and get his respect. His youth and loyalty just leap out at you as he rationalizes his actions and the tasks, as despicable as they are, that are carried out without thought. He does what he does for the good of the group and is rewarded greatly. The twist is when that loyalty is turned on him, having the plot device of the film being made about his actions by a friend is the fuel that spurns Byung and his handlers. He acts wounded, enraged, and generally lawless about what he has to do to survive and right his wrongs.
It’s this strong narrative and characterization that enhances the film. You get the personal story of a career mobster who does everything he is asked and then becomes the target of house cleaning for getting to big for his shoes. The focus of the film is on the story and not the typical glitz that comes along with gangster movies. Elaborate fights scenes are not adopted, instead scenes of violence are ugly and far from appealing. Director Yu-ha did right by dressing down the violence to the most visceral of actions, rather than putting a lot of attention into making the fights seem more Hollywood than they should be. Taking this approach, the full narrative of the film comes to light and we aren’t bogged down by a lot of the stylistic fluff people assume we want to see in Gangster movies.
This isn’t necessarily a traditional gangster movie. Sure there are a lot of thematic elements and narrative points that come from other movies in the genre, but focusing on the characters and story plays out better than a movie where there is story and more focus on presenting us action. The action scenes that are there aren’t pretty by fight fan standards, but it works so well with this movie that you overlook it all. If you are wanting a gangster movie with some punch and heart, A Dirty Carnival is a perfect film. I wouldn’t say that it is destined to be remembered in the pantheon of gangster movies, but for me it breaks the monotony of ultra violent mob flicks.