Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Paid in Blood, Korean Gangsters Do What They Do Best

Chairman Oh will not allow his criminal syndicate to participate in the illicit drug trade. Lee Min-seok is technically retired from organized crime, but his debt-collection agency is not much different from the loan sharks’ leg breakers. The business everyone really wants to be in is, of course, real estate development, especially the grand spa-casino the Chairman is building. That kind of money is easily worth killing for in Yoon Young-bin’s Paid in Blood (a.k.a. Tomb of the River—that was a wise title change), which releases today on digital VOD.

The views from the Chairman’s coastal Gangneung resort will be spectacular for those who live long enough to see it. His steely, middle-aged Eastwood-ish lieutenant Kim Gil-suk assumed it wasn’t any of his business, since it technically sits in his syndicate rival Lee Chung-sub’s territory. However, Oh reassigns the project to Kim, partly to punish Lee for a drug-related incident in one of his karaoke parlors. The calmer, shrewder Kim also has a better temperament for this kind of project, involving investments from not-so-friendly competing outfits.

Inconveniently, Lee Min-seok will kill his old boss to take possession of his shares in the development. Kim tries to finesse Lee when he attempts to muscle his way into the project management, because the Chairman is philosophically opposed to violence. However, Lee has no such scruples, especially since he has a large supply of debtors willing to take the fall for him.

South Korean cinema has given us some terrific gangsters movies.
Paid in Blood is not quite at the level of Nameless Gangster, but it is a solid example, executed with muscle and vinegary cynicism. Yoon definitely takes a hard look at next generation corporatist gangsters, who are more than a little put-off my reckless throwbacks like Lee.

Yu Oh-seong is terrific as the seriously-down-to-business Kim. He might look smooth on the outside, but he is ruthless on the inside. Yet, his professionalism makes us root for him. Conversely, Lee Hyun-kyun plays his clan-rival Chung-sub as such an out-of-control mess, viewers cannot help siding with him too. In contrast, Jang Hyuk’s Lin Min-seok is a cold, clammy sociopath, whom audiences will definitely want to see get his karmic just deserts.

Korean films like
Paid in Blood and For the Emperor expose just how thin the line there is between organized crime and bottom-feeding predatory finance companies. In this case, Yoon makes the gangsters look more reputable. He also gives us plenty of blood and double-crossing intrigue, all in a manner that will satisfy genre fans. Recommended accordingly, Paid in Blood releases today (7/26) on VOD.