Having achieved a fair amount of international success and attention with his last two films, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring
and The Isle
, South Korean director Kim Ki-duk is now in the position of having some of his back catalog released on U.S. screens. Hailing from 2001, Bad Guy
is coarser and more disturbing than his later films (although anyone who has seen the ending of The Isle
might fairly wonder how that could possibly be the case). Bad Guy
is a well-told tale that uses minimal dialogue, striking imagery, and vivid violence to weave a depressing portrait of obsessive love and a no-win battle of wills. This movie shares some themes with Ki-duk’s later two films: their shared water imagery and the idea that lust leads to death in the quotidian world. Bad Guy
definitely begins with lust. Before the opening credits are through, Han-gi (Je-Hyun), a man with a grizzly scar slicing his neck, has gone up and kissed a young college girl he does not know. He has to be pulled off her by some soldiers, and when she demands an apology and none is forthcoming, she spits in his face. Thus the template for their love affair is set. Later, the girl, Sun-hwa (Seo), is set up to commit a crime by Han-ki’s cronies and finds herself sold into prostitution to pay off her debt. She resists at first, but eventually grows complacent in her new life. Meanwhile, Han-gi watches her through a two-way mirror, an activity he increasingly grows to dislike. Ki-duk’s portrait of the red-light district and its habitués is vibrantly fascinating and the two key performances are deft. However, the film’s emotional dynamics grow scuzzier and scuzzier, despite some nice comic interplay among Han-gi’s cohorts. Sun-hwa is like a victim of Stockholm syndrome, while Han-gi slowly loses the spitfire that originally caught his eye. As horrifying as it is to watch the forced prostitution, the manner in which the movie resolves its narrative conflicts brings little relief to the viewer.