ADV Films // 2001 // 125 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // September 2nd, 2005
Thrills, kills and blood money on the side.
Don't you just hate it when a movie comes awfully close to hitting the mark, but somehow still manages to pull up short?
Guns & Talks is the tale of four young assassins. There's Jae-young (Jung Jae-young, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), who is the group's laidback marksman. Jung-woo (Shin Ha-gyoon, JSA: Joint Security Area) is the short-tempered explosives expert. Sang-yun (Shin Hyun-joon) is the master of disguise; he is also the oldest, which makes him the de facto leader. Rounding out the group is Ha-yun (Bin Won, Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War), Sang's younger brother. Ha doesn't really do much; he rarely ever picks up a gun, although he does cook (badly) and hack the occasional computer. The guys earn a respectable living making hits, but it wouldn't be much of a story if everything went according to plan, now would it? So what screws things up for out gang? Women, of course. Jung finds himself unable to pull the trigger on a very pregnant young target. Ha becomes attracted to a pesky schoolgirl who wants her English teacher rubbed out. And Sang accepts a risky offer to kill...well, I won't spoil that one. The boys also have to contend with Sergeant Kim (Jung Gyu-soo) and Inspector Cho (Jung Jin-young), a couple of cops working a case involving Tak Mun-bae (Son Hyun-joo), a local crime boss who seems to have taken an interest in the four friends' handiwork.
Guns & Talks gets off to a roaring start. The first ten or fifteen minutes are devoted to a ridiculously elaborate op in which our assassins rub out four targets. This sequence is funny, energetic, and well-staged. This is followed up by a trip to the home of Ha and Sang's Uncle Joo, who supplies the group with weapons and gadgets. After that we are introduced to the tenacious schoolgirl, a television newscaster on whom the killers have a crush, and the pregnant woman who will throw Jung for a loop. Okay, nothing wrong with any of that. There's also nothing wrong with the sequence in which the boys confront Sergeant Kim while Inspector Cho is snooping around their house. The last forty minutes of the movie are great, as our anti-heroes become involved in another elaborate hit, this one at an opera house during a performance of Hamlet. No, the big problem here is the middle third of the movie, where we get far too many scenes featuring Ha and the schoolgirl, and far too many scenes of Jung and the expectant mother (in other words, there is too much talk and not enough guns). At this point the movie starts to drag; the second act could easily lose at least twenty minutes, as a tighter editing job would have resulted in a much better film. There is a good 95 or 100 minute flick just waiting to shuck off the extraneous 25 or 30 minutes that unfortunately weigh down this movie.
Given the evidence at hand, I would say Jang Jin is a better director than he is a writer. He certainly knows how to create set pieces, and his work is stylish enough to make you forget that this movie primarily exists for no other reason than to stage shootouts, chases, and explosions. Yes, for the most part the movie is breezy, lighthearted fun (these guys are killers, but they're funny, charismatic killers, although this is arguably due more to the game, likeable cast than the writing), but things get a little too serious during the second act, and the tonal shift is quite jarring. Maybe the midsection would work if Jin were a better a writer, but the banality of what he presents there cannot be camouflaged by anything he pulls from his bag of cinematic tricks. Jin does try to inject a little humor into this section of the film, but most of it doesn't work (although I have to admit the crack about Jung's potted plant is probably the best joke in the movie). In a way, Jin almost turns the Jung plotline into a long shaggy-dog joke, while he definitely turns the Ha story into one. The fate of the man who hired Jung to kill the pregnant woman is quite funny, but there is still far too much buildup. The punchline to the schoolgirl plot is not funny at all; completely excising this section of the script would have been a smart move, especially considering that the ultimate resolution of this story, which doesn't come until the movie's closing moments, is nothing more than a throwaway bit. That being said, Jin definitely has a good eye, and I would like to see what he could do with the work of a more skilled writer.
ADV has supplied a solid transfer for Guns & Talks. The only flaw is some overabundant, obtrusive grain in a couple of dark scenes, but other than that the video is all aces. Audio options include a stereo Korean track and a 5.1 English dub. The Korean track features excellent channel separation and some great low-end activity. Surround action in the English dub is plentiful, but the dubbing work is flat and lifeless, underscoring just how much this film needs a full surround mix of the original language track. I know this movie has been available for quite some time in the form of import discs, all of which include a 5.1 mix of the original Korean soundtrack; there is even an extremely cheap region-free disc which includes a DTS track. Besides the obvious action sequences, the movie's music would benefit from a 5.1 track; there is a lot of percussion in the music, both played and programmed, and it sounded great in the dub, but then the dialogue would kick in and my ears would start bleeding, which pretty much ruined the fun I was having. The only extras on the disc are a trailer for Guns & Talks and a handful of previews for other live action ADV releases.
For anyone who is interested, I'd say Guns & Talks is a candidate for a rental. What we have here is two-thirds of a good, fun flick marred by an excess of wasted celluloid, but I would still love to take a look at that disc with the DTS track.
After much deliberation, we are going to go with a verdict of not guilty, but it certainly was a close call.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Korean)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated