Back in the late nineties, early noughties, Korea ruled the SIlver Screen when it came to ultra-violent, gangster, action movies. Sadly, Paid In Blood, AKA Tomb Of The River, is not a hark back to those days.
You see, no matter how good a movie is, it takes very little to ruin it and in this case, that ruin comes right at the end of this overly long movie, the writer / director electing to follow that most Hollywood of tropes by giving one of our characters superhuman-like powers, just when he needs it, but we’ll get to that.
The movie starts with a bunch of fishermen discovering a, seemingly, empty boat. However, on board they find one person alive, covered in blood, holding a knife, everyone else, dead.
We then zip forward ten years and I think we are meant to think that this person on the boat is Min Seok, Jang Hyuk (“The Swordsman”, “Tell Me What You Saw (TV)”), except that it is very hard to tell, particularly when he looks exactly the same edge.
We leave him there and pick up with Gil Seok, Oh-seong Yu (“The Veil (TV)”, “The Great Battle”). He is a loyal gang-leader working for Chairman Oh, Se-joon Kim. Lee Chong-seop, Lee Hyun Kyun (“Dark Hole (TV)”, “Bimilui Soop (TV)”), also works for Chairman Oh, the pair splitting the land between them with only the occasional crossover.
Whilst these are gangsters, they appear non-violent, which comes from Oh. He knows this is the modern world where knives lead to jail time. He prefers talk, deals, that sort of thing.
However, debt collector Min Seok doesn’t see life this way and begins working his way to the top the fast way, using a knife. His goal is to become the single shareholder in a large casino resort that Chairman Oh has built, at no expense, and put Gil Seok in charge of.
First he kills President Shin’s, Young-kyu Song (“The Penthouse: War in Life (TV)”, Undercover (TV)”), boss and becomes the second largest shareholder. He then meets with Gil Seok, who tells him he should go away, he can’t interfere in how things are run, he needs to be the largest shareholder for that.
Like a red rag to a bull, Min Seok takes this literally and tracks down Chairman Oh, dispatching him. Each time Min Seok takes care of someone he gets someone who is in a large amount of debt to take the fall where the police are concerned. Lieutenant Jo Bang Hyeon, Park Sung-Geun (“Sweet Home (TV)”, “Private Lives (TV)”), is left chasing his tail for the most part.
What follows is a long-winded attempt by Min Seok to take down Chairman Oh’s long standing gangster empire with Gil Seok largely standing in his way. Despite Gil Seok’s reluctance to take on the casino resort in the first place, or really get involved in much violence, Min Seok’s actions don’t leave him a lot of choice and he must pick up a knife or face losing the battle.
Tomb Of The River is slow, there’s no denying that. With a nearly two-hour runtime it goes at a snail’s pace and, because it’s not really bringing anything new to the table, you are ahead of it most of the time.
Then there’s the finale. I won’t spoil it too much in case you decide to see for yourself, but, for heaven’s sake, if, throughout your film, people die instantly from being hit on the head, for example, don’t suddenly make your protagonist, or antagonist, be able to survive multiple hits on the head. It’s just eye-roll inducing. Think of something else, or show them being hit multiple times through, then at least it’s a little more believable when we get to the end.
Despite the long running time and the ending, Paid In Blood, aka Tomb Of The River, isn’t all bad. It’s well directed for the most part and the acting is good. It’s not meant to be an all-out action movie and it isn’t, but it doesn’t quite work as a crime-drama either.
26th July 2022
THE QUICK SELL
When a powerful crime ring starts construction on the largest casino in all of Asia, the group is challenged by a young, vicious gangster from Seoul who will stop at nothing to gain power.