Open City Review – High Drama on Lowlifes

Continuing our love affair with Korean films, we watched Open City on Netflix Instant the other day.

Open City (2008) touches upon an unusual, rarely explored subject inside the criminal underbelly of large cities – the lowly underclass of pickpockets.

Pickpockets may not be as glamorous as the Mafia, counterfeiters or thieves carrying out big heists but they’re like vermin, more ubiquitous than any other type of urban criminal.

Seoul, Mumbai, Osaka, Chennai, name any big city and you can be sure pickpockets are waiting to pick your pocket or purse.

Several decades back, SI too once fell victim to a pickpocket gang, losing the then princely sum of Rs 50. 🙁

But if Open City were merely about a gang of pickpockets, it’d be just a documentary.

Au contraire, pickpocketing is the framework, the outer shell, within which the moving Open City is set.

Neatly packaged inside the pickpocket shell, you have high drama, horrific violence, intense gang-rivalry, murder, revenge, tragedy, love, blackmail, comedy, betrayal and poignant separation.

Right and Wrong

At the heart of the film are two characters, the femme fatale Baek Jang-mi (Son Ye-jin) and the cop Jo Dae-yeong (Kim Myung-min).

Both carry heavy, past emotional baggage, although it’s not easily apparent in Baek Jang-mi’s case.

An ace pickpocket, Baek Jang-mi has recently returned to Seoul from Osaka, where she was involved in a series of prominent crimes.

Once in Seoul, the petite, beautiful woman assembles a gang of ruthless pickpockets undeterred by such niceties like not stepping into rivals’ turf.

Jo Dae-yeong, on the other hand, is on the right side of the law. A police officer, he’s brought into a newly established squad to halt the menace of the violent pickpocket gangs robbing, slashing and terrorizing commuters and others.

The paths of Baek Jang-mi and Jo Dae-yeong cross, first under seemingly innocent circumstances but soon they’re warily circling each other.

Like all fine movies, even characters with lesser roles, mainly Baek Jang-mi’s underlings and Jo Dae-yeong’s cop colleagues, leave an indelible impression on the viewer.

And none more so than Man-ok (Kim Hae-sook) who plays Jo Dae-yeong’s mother.

Both Son Ye-jin and Kim Myung-min are strong actors, bringing great passion to their characters. Their faces reveal deep currents running underneath and the pain that yesteryears have left.

Like with most Korean films that I’ve seen, the photography, lighting and set design in Open City are good.

Comedy comes from the antics of one of the rival gangs led by the Twin.

The violent events at the end are heartrending and tragic, highlighting as they do how events in the distant past can sometimes have extraordinary repercussions many years later.

Sang-gi Lee wrote and directed this highly watchable movie that SI recommends.

Folks, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times.

Unlike Indian moviemakers, Korean directors understand the craft of making films. That’s why Korean films have a reach beyond Korea unlike Indian films that are watched only by South Asians.

2 Responses to "Open City Review – High Drama on Lowlifes"

  1. Vinith   February 13, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Going by your review, I have doubts that a movie Bhindi Bazaar may be a rip off.

    Bhindi Bazaar is also about pickpockets. There are two rival gangs, each having a ruthless leader. The protagonists belong to one of the gangs and trained from childhood to become expert pickpockets. Their leader is Maamu.

    For about an hour, the movie shows how the gangs operate, the clashes between them and some humor is also thrown along the way. It takes a turn when Maamu dies suddenly.

    Rival gang clashes, brutal murders, revenge, love, double-crossing etc are what follows.

    Maybe the two movies are completely different but I’m kind of doubtful after reading your review. Responds:

    I’ll watch Bhindi Bazaar one of these days.

  2. tiramisu   February 13, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    Speaking of Korean movies, if you haven’t already check out “My Way” on NF instant.

    Also, check out the French flick “Tell No One” – excellent thriller. Responds:

    Tell No One is a lovely movie…watched it upon release 4 or 5 years back at Sunshine Cinema in downtown Manhattan.

    Will watch My Way tonight or tomorrow.

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