Friday, January 8, 2016

Film Review: For The Emperor (2014)

For The Emperor (Review)
Park Sang-jun/Lee Min-ki/2014
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"The sheer lack of originality in this film leaves so much to be desired."

Lee Hwan (Lee Min-ki), a man with a promising baseball career, loses it all when he's caught in a match-fixing scandal. As he hits rock bottom, Hwan is recruited by Jeong Sang-ha (Park Sung-woong), a loan shark with his own criminal organization...

For The Emperor is your basic rise-to-power crime film. The film follows Lee Hwan – the always grave and ultra-cool young gangster looking for riches. (He's so cool, he doesn't crack a single smile throughout the film! That's dedication!) Hwan is recruited by Sang-ha, who basically seeks to groom Hwan into his right-hand man; Sang-ha is like a boss, a mentor, and a big brother rolled into one to Hwan. Together, their crime syndicate begins to rise using brutal force and typical strategy – knife fights and legitimizing business. Of course, with copious money and large egos involved, people were bound to clash. So, a power struggle ensues with Hwan and Sang-ha caught in the middle. There are some turns, there are some twists, but it ultimately leads exactly where you expect. The finale is very predictable and forgettable.

For The Emperor is not necessarily a bad film. The movie is stylish and engaging. It really nails the noir atmosphere. There are some well-choreographed, brutal fight scenes scattered throughout the film. If you love those raw, bloody fight scenes we've seen in films like A Dirty Carnival, then you'll enjoy these. And, who doesn't enjoy a cautionary tale of ambition a la Scarface? Unfortunately, when it comes to the plot, that's really all it is Рa rise-to-power, Scarface-type film. The sheer lack of originality in this film leaves so much to be desired. It feels like you've already watched several iterations of the same scene over and over. It doesn't help that there is a severe lack of interesting characters. Sang-ha is at least somewhat interesting, but Lee Hwan is a walking clich̩ with little strength.

The acting is decent. Lee Min-ki plays the cool and suave character well – he's mostly expressionless. Is this a good thing? I really don't know. Maybe his performance is strong, but his character brings him down to a forgettable level. (Actually, I just realized Min-ki practically plays the exact same character in Monster.) Park Sung-woong is much more charismatic in his role, stealing the show with a composed performance. The film looks great – it has the blue tints we've come to expect from Korean noir movies. (Think: No Tears For The Dead) The lighting was a little odd when connected to the story, which you'll notice from the first action sequence in the hallway. (How are the lights moving so consistently when they're flashlights?) The music was good – it has a nice retro-vibe. The screenplay is written by Lee Yong-soo and the film is directed by Park Sang-jun. Aside from the crippling cliches and a lack of character development, the film is crafted well. Sang-jun knows how to direct his cast and craft action scenes. Unfortunately, the film's more significant problems are embedded in the foundation.

Overall, I enjoyed For The Emperor. The story and characters are utterly cliché — it's undeniable. However, the film's quality is also indisputable. It is a well-made film, from the performances to the action sequences. Sure, it's the same old rise-to-power tale we've been told for decades, but it still managed to entertain. It doesn't leave a strong impression, but it's not a bad popcorn flick – especially
for fans of the genre. I recommend a rental or cheap purchase; if you have Netflix, stream it there if you're interested.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, graphic sex and nudity.

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