ADV Films // 2002 // 138 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // September 16th, 2005
This film is its own worst enemy.
I've been trying to watch more Asian films lately, for I've been inspired by some marvelous films from the Far East. While American films rarely have anything new to offer in their respective genres, watching movies from Japan, China, or Korea offers new ways to see stories both old and new. I had been riding high on a wave of such excellent fare as Kung Fu Hustle and House of Flying Daggers, only to have a cold bucket of water thrown on me when I watched Public Enemy (Gonggongui jeog). Public Enemy has the distinct potential to cut my interest in Asian cinema short, because it is a horrible example of filmmaking gone wrong, regardless of country of origin.
Here's the thin plot, stretched to a horrifically long 138 minutes. Detective Gang, an officer in Seoul, Korea, who makes few arrests, stumbles across the case of a serial killer. One night while on stakeout he has to "take a massive dump" but cannot find a bathroom. In the pouring rain he squats to relieve himself and comes face to face with the killer, though Gang doesn't realize that yet. When the bodies are found, he makes the connection and begins to obsessively hunt down the killer. Gang quickly realizes it's a prominent citizen, but no one believes his theory. Gang will do whatever it takes to bring this serial killer to justice, even though his efforts take him further and further toward the edge of reason.
Typing up that synopsis made the plot sound somewhat interesting again; but it isn't. Public Enemy has imported every horrible Hollywood standard from clichéd characters and situations to bad acting and dialogue. Obviously dreck can be created in any country. What troubles me here is whether Public Enemy is as bad as it appears, or if this is a result of the dubbing/subtitling. Are these translations accurate? Did the filmmakers really intend for these characters to say these exact things? I realize that there have been many problems with dubs and subs over the years, and I believe Public Enemy greatly suffers from those problems. Regardless of the accuracy of the words, the English dub on this film is atrocious. I've never encountered such horrible voice work, ever. Not in a cartoon, not in a video game, and never before in a movie. In a Korean film, why would you dub voices with a Southern United States twang or a Bronx accent? Sorry, but those types of vocals do not belong in an Asian film. Even though the two characters with those accents have very little screen time, most of the other characters have equally irritating dubs.
There are plenty of unanswered questions in this film, yet I don't care. Public Enemy is a totally uninspired, stupid film. Our hero, our protagonist, has no redeeming qualities. Aside from being lazy, he's a slob, he's insolent, he's foul-mouthed, and he's clueless. He's one part Columbo, without the intelligence, and one part Dirty Harry, without the macho.
The poor quality of the film extended to the transfers from ADV Films. With the video, I correctly deduced that we have a 2.35:1 anamorphic print, but it is unusual; for, on my widescreen set, the film was not centered from top to bottom on my screen -- there was a larger black bar at the bottom than at the top. I've never encountered that before, and I cannot begin to fathom how that's possible. The print itself is fairly good, with nice flesh tones, deep black, and solid details. Present throughout the movie are white speckles and a bit too much grain. On the audio front, we have another conundrum. This Korean film has two tracks. The default option is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, while the second choice is a Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Am I to presume this Korean film doesn't have a 5.1 mix in its original language? I find that difficult to believe, and I'm sure purists will be dismayed. I flipped between the two tracks, and neither has any flaws. Dialogue is clean from each, and the 5.1 English mix does nicely use the additional speaker on occasion. While I found the original Korean track to sound better, I didn't like the English subtitles. They felt too formal for the film, so I listened to the English dub, which was more conversational. But, as I stated earlier, both seemed awful to me. A handful of trailers for films I've never heard of are included on this otherwise bare-bones release.
Without doubt, Public Enemy is a terrible film. It meanders for far too long, and it has terrible characters and a dull plot. Perhaps with a good 45-minute edit and some new dubs and subs, this might make a palatable film. Until that time, avoid this one.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Korean)
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Trailers for Jail Breakers, Marrying the Mafia, Conduct Zero, Jungle Juice, Guns and Tanks, and No Blood No Tears