Directed by: Jang Jin (장진)
Starring: Shin Hyun-joon(신현준), Shin Ha-kyun (신하균), Won Bin (원빈), Jung Jae-young (정재영), Jung Jin-young (정진영), Gong Hyo-jin (공효진), Ko Eun-mi (고은미)
The Film: Four men (Shin Hyun-joon, Shin Ha-kyun, Won Bin, Jung Jae-young) live and work together as assassins for hire. Their clients have specific and often unusual requests on how they would like to have someone killed. These assassins don’t ask why, and they have yet to fail a mission. On the day they target four high-ranking business men, their plans happen to coincide with a three-year-long police stake-out that is finally going down to bust one of their targets. When the stake-out gets foiled due to the mysterious hit men, the lead detective (Jung Jin-young) on the case begins to investigate and hunt down the assassins.
To make matters worse, a high school girl (Gong Hyo-jin) approaches the assassins and says she would like to have someone killed. Despite being adamant about not being in “that line of work” and turning her away several times, her insistence becomes hard to deal with.
If you have never seen a film written or directed by Jang Jin, it is possible that after reading the above synopsis you might think you have a pretty good idea about the film’s tone or how it might play out. Let me assure you, it isn’t anything like you imagined. Jang Jin is one of the most unique voices in all of film. In Korea, he is predominately known as a playwright and theater director, but Jang has also penned some of the best screenplays around including such classics like Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005) and Going by the Book (2007). His characters are always multi-dimensional and full of unique quirks that are often in stark contrast of character archetypes. His plots can be nearly impossible to predict as he manages laugh-out-loud humor in some of the darkest of situations.
The four assassins in Guns & Talks are not your typical killers. Through the youngest of the group’s (Won Bin) opening narration, one quickly becomes aware that the film is taking a lighthearted comedic approach to the subject of contract killing in a similar way that Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) did. Despite all their dark dealings, these killers are sensitive and have a romantic view of the world and their place in it, “I never understood why someone would want to kill another person, but since many people ask for our help…I know that we are needed in this world.”
Sang-yeon (Shin Hyun-joon) is the oldest and the group’s leader. He decides which jobs they accept and details the method in which the hits will take place. He is protective of his naive younger brother Ha-yeon (Won Bin), who has a very romantic view of the world and hasn’t been allowed to shoot a gun yet. Jung-woo (Shin Ha-kyun) is struggling to complete his latest mission after witnessing his target shed a tear while looking at a photograph. To further complicate the matter, he discovers that his target is not only a beautiful woman but also pregnant. Jae-young (Jung Jae-young) is the most quiet of the group and their sharpshooter. He has an eye for danger and is always the voice of reason. The four of them watch the morning news together every day but they have no idea what is going on in the world because they are love-struck by the news anchor Oh Young-lan (Ko Eun-mi). They have each other’s backs and live together like a family unit.
Guns & Talks has the general framework of a police procedural but does not focus on the little details. The majority of the film is spent as “a day in the life” of these killers with big hearts. The detective closing in on them is more of a nuisance to them than anything, and becomes an extra layer of risk and pressure piling on top of a big mission they’ve been spending a lot of time planning for. Since they carry out their assignments to the customer’s exact request, the way they kill can require a lot of set up, timing, and infiltration into restricted areas like something one would expect to see in a heist movie. This makes for one of the most memorable and elaborate third act sequences that could easily put any one of the aforementioned types of movies to shame. The entire sequence (along with the editing) of their monumental task of making a hit inside of a sold out auditorium during a live stage production of Hamlet is a thing of beauty to behold.
If there is any criticism of the film, it is that it climaxes a bit too early. There are also several sequences that are highly unrealistic, but if one keeps in mind that everything is being told through the rose-colored glasses of Ha-yeon (Won Bin) who he himself points out that people never believe him when he tells the same story, the implausibilities become easily overlooked. And with the film being 17 years old now, the special effects can appear a bit dated in parts but overall hold up surprisingly well.
Guns & Talks is an action dramedy that would probably get an R rating for language and violence if released in America. It is unusual, quirky, and shows many of the unique characteristics that would come to define the Korean New Wave films of the early millennium. That is why Guns & Talks is one of my go-to movies when introducing Korean cinema to my friends for the first time. As long as you don’t take the film too seriously, you will be in for one hell of a fun time.
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