The City of Violence: Ultimate Edition
October 5, 2007
The City of Violence (2006) is a stylish action film that wears its many cinematic influences proudly on its sleeve. Filmmaker Ryoo Seung-Wan employs a bevy of flashy techniques like split screens, freeze frames and time lapse photography to tell a simple story of revenge. Officer Jung Taesoo (Doo-Hong) receives a phone call from the wife of an old friend of his by the name of Wangjae who tells him that he has died. At the funeral, Jung is reunited with two other friends from his childhood, Pilho (Beom-Soo) and Sukhwan (Seung-Wan), and they reminisce about old times while also telling Jung about how Wangjae was killed in a scuffle with a gang of young punks. Jung’s detective instincts tell him that something isn’t right and he decides to investigate his friend’s murder. He finds out that Wangjae was connected to the city’s organized crime leader who turns out to be Pilho. Jung is soon joined by Sukhwan and they proceed to exact some good ol’ fashion revenge.
As the cliché goes, this time its personal as Seung-Wan blatantly quotes other films, wading into John Woo territory (his Heroic Bloodshed films) thematically-speaking as close friends are betrayed by one of their own and the body count quickly rises. There is also a direct reference to Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) when Jung and Sukhwan take on a series of gangs, including martial arts practicing breakdancers, guys with BMX bicycles, school girls armed with sticks, school boys armed with hockey sticks and baseball players, looking remarkably like the Furies from Hill’s movie, armed with bats.
Flashbacks reveal what a tight-knit group they were as kids, willing to risk bodily harm for each other. In a way, The City of Violence is about the generation gap. Jung and his friends have grown up and become adults only to realize that kids are responsible for their friend’s death. They not only want to exact revenge but still prove that they can hold their own with any of these young punks. Seung-Wan’s film is not a great one but entertaining nonetheless.
This two-disc set certainly lives up to its “Ultimate Edition” moniker as it is jam-packed with extras. On the first disc is an audio commentary by director and star Ryoo Seung-Wan. He says that he wanted to make a western set in a city. He also wanted to the film to be “dynamic and moving” and constantly kept the camera in motion. Early on, Seung-Wan describes his movie as “the characters of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986) go into Chinatown (1974) of Roman Polanski, fight and struggle like in Jackie Chan’s Police Story (1985), edit it in the style of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). Shoot it like the way of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980).” The director goes on to tell all kinds of filming anecdotes, talks about its themes and generally speaks very eloquently.
Also included are three trailers.
There is a “Blooper Reel,” an amusing, albeit brief, collection of blown lines and physical flubs.
Disc two’s extras are organized into three sections with multiple featurettes that go into great detail on various aspects of the film. “Pre-Production” examines how Seung-Wan was influenced by the Hong Kong action film aesthetic and later American filmmakers like Peckinpah and Scorsese. He also talks about the use of space, wire-work and group fight scenes vs. one-on-one sequences. Actor and action director Jung Doo-Hong talks about the nature of the film’s fight scenes and his approach to them. The film’s budget was low so the filmmaker had to plan and do the sequences themselves. It is amazing how much was achieved on a low budget.
The “Production” section features some of the cast members talking about their characters while Seung-Wan talks about the challenges of acting and directing in the same film. He intentionally kept the budget low and avoided casting movie stars so that he could have more creative freedom. There are detailed looks at the film’s action sequences, how they were planned and eventually shot with additional commentary by Doo-Hong.
Finally, there is “Post-Production” with eight deleted scenes and an alternate ending with optional commentary by Seung-Wan. He puts the footage in context and explains why he cut them. There is also fascinating footage of the director, Doo-Hong and others at the Venice Film Festival as well as a featurette on how the posters for the film were designed, including how to market a film without stars.