Director: Lee Doo Yong
Starring: Gang Dae Hui, Choi Chong Ming, James Nam, Bae Soo Cheon
O.K. where has this wonderful all-out fight fest been hiding? Apparently, it was hiding in plain view as I had it in my collection for several years after having bought it on Amazon for next to nothing. It just sat there collecting dust as I had no idea what it was I so casually obtained. Not until I started to read up on it did I discover that this was one of the top Korean martial arts movies of it's time... and it supposedly featured a cameo by non other than the baddest super kicker of them all, Hwang Jang Lee! After beating myself up for not having watched it sooner, I promptly put the thing in my dvd player. I was not disappointed.
The film is set in 1904 during the Japanese occupation of Korea in which it's populance found themselves brutilized, humiliated and kept in makeshift camps. A pair of heroic locals (Gang Dai Hui and James Nam) decides to fight back, setting off a brutal series of battles that ultimately threatens the entire Japanese army. After Nam's character gets captured, he is convinced to switch sides with the promise that his friend will be spared. Things don't go quite as expected...
I was really taken aback at just how much fun 'Kill the Shogun' was. O.K. the drama was uneven to say the least (early melodrama quickly giving way to mildly goofy shenenigans and featuring a raw fish eating main villain that is as crazily over the top as could be imagined), but I think this was the correct way to go. Director Lee Doo Yong gave me the impression here that he felt the over seriousness could sink the production and went with a livlier approach. Perhaps Lee wasn't capable of handling the material any other way. Regardless, he does manage to keep things moving at a quick clip and in this type of film, that tends to be more important.
Then there are the plentiful fight scenes. I've been critical in the past of Korean choreography being inferior to that in Hong Kong films. Well, that theory gets kicked to the curb big time here. Simply put, what's on display is some of the most exciting hand to hand (and foot) duels that I've ever seen in a 70s martial arts film. For once, the choreography does juctice to the supreme Tae Kwan Do fighter/actors. The battles are all fast, crisp and built up for max impact, culminating in a twenty minute tournament (of sorts) finale that is as ferocious and hard hitting as it gets. I am completely unfamiliar with star, Gang Dae Hui (the only other credit I could even find for him was another Korean film called Jailhouse, released the same year) but whoever he is, he's a very strong presence who lends equally well to the head bashing and thesping scenes. If these are in fact his only two screen credits (and they may well not be), then it's a damn shame. I've been a fan of James "mr. Rage" Nam ever since first seeing him as the complicated villain in 'King Boxer'. He proves here to be just as adept at portraying complicated heroes.
Despite my minor hesitance with the film's drama, 'Kill the Shogun' makes for a frentically fun old school martial arts experience, one that no self respecting aficiondo should miss.
Oh, and as for the Hwang Jang Lee cameo? He can be spotted during the finale, getting his rear end handed to him by Gang (Hwang's the one dressed in red). It took a second viewing before I even recognized him.