Filmmaker Jeon Kyu-hwan delivers a dark, visual feast with Angry Painter, a South Korean-Estonian co-production.
Director Jeon Kyu-hwan is known mainly for the successful festival runs of his Town Series films (Mozart Town) (Dance Town) (Animal Town). His characters are often living on the margins of society and find themselves in desperate situations. There is a dark, visceral quality to his style. For Jeon Kyu-hwan, there is no holding back when it comes to his on-screen visuals, which can both add or subtract to his appeal. He is often a “show, don’t tell” kind of storyteller. For some, this can be a brave and refreshing voice in cinema; but, it can also be too much for the average movie-goer. Thus, his films have largely been confined to festival and art house scenes.
Angry Painter is the seventh and latest film from director Jeon and it follows in this tradition. It may end up being his most commercially available film, but this should be taken with a grain of salt. Angry Painter is still very much for the more serious film viewer, featuring just about everything that makes a film “graphic”. Bloody violence, nudity, human trafficking, drug use, and x-rated sexual content. All of this, however, is pulled off very artistically and doesn’t feel exploitative.
The style of the film is a cross between Only God Forgives (2013), 아저씨 (The Man From Nowhere) (2010), and The Boondock Saints (1999). The Painter (Yoo Joon-sang) is a stoic loner who is fueled by his deep religious beliefs in God, that serve as his justification for killing. Largely targeting men who abuse women, he acts as an executioner for God, being an angel of death of sorts. For his partner, Screwdriver, the killings act as more of a catharsis as he struggles from a history of severe drug addiction. The fight scenes are gritty and intense, and even include a little jiu jitsu in one scene.
Angry Painter also shows a western influence on Seoul that is fairly uncommon in Korean cinema. Whether the director meant to portray it as a corrupting influence or just stating that it exists is hard to determine. The main characters are covered in tattoos and eat mostly burgers and other foreign foods when they are outside. They seem to mingle in areas such as Itaewon or Haebangchon, two areas of Seoul that are densely populated with non Koreans. Even the night club they frequent has eastern European girls working as dancers/strippers while also being tied to the Russian mob for drug smuggling and human trafficking. There is definitely an underbelly to the city that is uniquely portrayed in Angry Painter.
The version of Angry Painter that I saw was the directors cut, and clocked in at about 109 minutes. It was hard to follow in terms of a specific narrative, but the entire picture was a visually arresting ride. Jeon Kyu-hwan pushes the boundaries of what is typically seen in movies today.
Ultimately, I will classify Angry Painter as a tour de force; a category I reserve for films that carry enormous weight and pack both a visual and psychological punch, for better or worse. Only the most seasoned of film goers need apply here. Personally, I loved the artistic framing of the disturbing subject matter.
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