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Canadian Premiere

  • South korea 2008
  • 98 min
  • 35mm
  • Korean with English subtitles
Official Selection, New York Korean Film Festival 2008

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Director: Lee Seong-han
Screenplay: Choi Hae-chul, Lee Seong-han
Cast: Jung Woo, Lim Jun-il, Koga Mitsuki, Kim Soo-hyun, Yang Ki-won
Producers: Film the Days
Distributor: Film the Days


When you’re the kind of person who appreciates consumer culture’s finer things in life, and you’re generally the lazy type, sooner or later your personal finances are going to resemble those of an American car manufacturer hit by a recession. Gwang-tae’s finances could certainly use a government bailout. He owes a whopping sum to a casino owner whose henchmen are breathing down Gwang-tae’s neck. To pay them off, he asks his pal Gil-do if he can find a recipient for a non-essential organ Gwang-tae might donate. At the same time, in Japan, a yakuza gang leader is stabbed, and is in sudden, urgent need of a liver. What luck! Sato, an honourable gangster, flies to Korea to pick up his boss’s invaluable liver donor, but Gil-do has pulled a fast one on Gwang-tae and absconded with the money, leaving his buddy pursued by thugs while Sato is likewise the target of the crooks who stabbed his boss. Though they can hardly communicate verbally, Sato and Gwang-tae will have to unite to face their looming threats.

SPARE is an ambitious project with two diametrically opposed goals. It reconnects with traditional Korean theatre, with its direct audience interaction, an approach used here through the off-screen voices of two fictitious audience members commenting on particular scenes. Likewise, the excellent score is performed on traditional instruments—and it’s no less devilishly entertaining for it. But mirroring this revisiting of the past is a post-modern demolition of the conventions of the Korean gangster film, with self-parody as a primary tool. The casino head who seeks his missing money is a softy, surprisingly, his henchmen aren’t all that menacing, fierce fighters are in fact fashion victims who can hardly handle a little scuffle-induced dirt on their wardrobe, the protagonist is a crybaby loser and the most admirable character is… Japanese?! SPARE is nonetheless an effective and original action flick with several impressively orchestrated fight scenes, in which the actors handle their own stunts and show decent combat skills, but it’s ultimately a far funnier work than one might anticipate. Lee Seong-han worked seven years on this debut effort, a fact that will be driven right home by the time the end credits roll—and do sit them out, there are some surprises hidden there!

—Nicolas Archambault (translated by Rupert Bottenberg)

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