Artsy action elevates ‘No Tears for the Dead’

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Well done genre fare is a treat. While “No Tears for the Dead” takes the action genre a step further, it works best when it embraces its roots. Despite many weaknesses, the narrative manages to hone in on one central relationship. It’s this focus that makes the film good, but it’s the action that makes it great. Beyond that, however, things begin to fall apart.

A disastrous hit job leaves a little girl, Yoo-mi (Kang ji-Woo, “A Man and a Woman”) dead. The man responsible, Gon (Dong gun-Jang, “Dangerous Liasions”), is sent by his employer to murder the mother, Mo-kyeong (Min hee-Kim, “Right Now, Wrong Then”) and finish the job.

The plot thickens beyond that, of course. But the many subplots add little to the movie. By far the muddiest part of the story is Mo-kyeong’s take down of her boss John Lee (Jun Sung Kim, “Innocent Blood”). Clumsy exposition and explanations of character motivations make the whole affair a confusing mess. Thankfully, Jang’s performance as Gon and Kim’s as Mo-kyeong provide a funnel for the narrative.

It begins with an arresting scene. Gon’s character is built well in ten minutes, and the main conflict follows soon after. “No Tears for the Dead” shows immense promise in its first half. But once numerous, many poorly acted, characters are introduced and given hammy lines of dialogue, the movie loses its ambition.

However, that’s when things take off. The on-the-nose dialogue and cliched posturing make the movie something truly memorable. It’s as if director Lee Jeong-beom gave into the trappings of action. Thank God he did.

The action sequences are mesmerizing. They have a rhythmic sensibility. Fight scenes have movements, a definite structure. Excellent sound design bolsters the cruelest moments of these scenes. The result is often stomach churning, cringe inducing violence. More than that, they inform character. Gon’s first act of violence ripples through the narrative, and affects every act of violence thereafter.

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Characters are introduced and promptly killed, oftentimes with appalling brutality. The narrative takes so many twists and turns that they blur together. A lot of stuff happens over the film’s 116 minutes, but by the end, little of it feels important.

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Ultimately, “No Tears for the Dead” is a pulpy, consummate action flicked dressed in high drama’s clothing. The trappings of the genre appear slowly, but once they appear, they stay. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it works in the movie’s favor. The best moments ignore the glut of characters and opaque criminal enterprises, and focus on action and Gon and Mo-kyeong’s relationship. With far more to offer than standard action fare, “No Tears for the Dead” never escapes its genre, but does what it does beautifully.

Title: “No Tears for the Dead”

Director: Lee Jeong-beom

Release date: June 4, 2014

Genre: Action

Country: Korea

Rating: 4/5