No Tears for the Dead (2014)
Editor’s Note: No Tears for the Dead opens in limited release on June 20th in the US and Canada.
Sleek glass skyscrapers house nicely dressed criminals who manipulate their legitimate business careers for ill-gotten gains. Their group of thugs are lead by a silent commander (a taciturn hero, if you will), who, in turn, finds a woman that tries to rescue/redeem him. Yet in finding his redemption, the taciturn hero also finds that everything ends up drenched in blood. These characteristics of the South Korean crime film are on full display in No Tears for the Dead, Lee Jeong-beom’s latest offering of a shallow, yet entertaining, action romp.
Yet in finding his redemption, the taciturn hero also finds that everything ends up drenched in blood.
The man in desperate need of redemption is Gon (Jang Dong-gun), a professional hitman. On his last job, Gon efficiently takes out his intended target – a South Korean businessman who has data that the mob wants – amongst a room filled with Russian mobsters. Unfortunately, Gon also shoots down the businessman’s young daughter, who is inexplicably present at the criminal get-together. The shooting of a child has a somewhat negative effect on Gon, sending him into a drunken pit of despair. A triad of employers and Gon’s old comrade, Chaoz (Brian Tee), drag him out of this wallowing depression in order to recover the data that wasn’t on the target’s person at the time. To add insult to injury, Gon is given a new target: Mo-gyeong (Kim Min-hee), the estranged wife of the businessman and the mother of the child Gon gunned down. Oh the humanity!
No Tears for the Dead is at its best when frenetic energy and sustained action explode across the screen. Lee certainly feels no obligation to tone down the violence as bodies gleefully explode in a hail of bullets, soaking everyone in half of the county’s blood bank reserves. Having already set the tone by gunning down a child in the opening scene, Lee amps up the films intensity by throwing Gon into an apartment block massacre. The film leads to a bruising final showdown, one whose bloodshed will definitely take a toll on the insurance premiums of the financial district.
Lee certainly feels no obligation to tone down the violence as bodies gleefully explode in a hail of bullets, soaking everyone in half of the county’s blood bank reserves.
The film has enough obligatory twists and turns to hold a person’s interest for two hours. Lee creates a remarkable
amount of tension by following Gon’s budding relationship with his intended target. Even though Gon’s decision to switch sides is premeditated by the opening scene, the film is still surprisingly effective. Much of the film’s effectiveness is due to Jang, who exhibits steely charisma in a role that requires nuanced moments in lieu of standout dramatic set pieces. Whether it is through momentary glances as he passes his target in the corridor, or through the conflicted look he makes while screwing on a silencer, Jang nails the few opportunities he is given.
It’s a shame that the film offers very little beyond nicely polished surface details. Lee tries his best to construct character depth, but each attempt falls flat. For instance, Gon reminisces occasionally about how he was abandoned as a child by his mother in America, while Me-gyeong attempts suicide after wallowing in old school videos and watching parents pick up their children from school (there’s even a bizarre attempt to use “Danny Boy” as a signifier for the loss she’s suffered).
The lack of character depth exacerbates the other weaknesses in the plot. The first ten minutes foreshadows the trajectory of rest of the film, and although Lee stretches out the plot as best he can (even adding great moments of tension), the film still remains blindingly predictable. Moreover, Lee spends more time showing Gon fighting with his former employers, leaving little room to develop the other gun-totting villains. The final battle lacks any resonance because none of the villains are distinguishable.
The action sequences are the best aspect of No Tears for the Dead. With more effort spent on creating compelling characters and an original plot, Lee could have produced a quality story to match his masterful visuals. Alas, the elements of the film are half-formed, and when the action stops, the gapping flaws become all the more apparent.
A competent action/thriller that is too shallow to break out of its generic straightjacket.