‘The Merciless’ got a lengthy standing ovation in Cannes this year, which makes you wonder what the assembled cineastes would have done if this violent South Korean gangster flick had actually turned out to be any good.
Hyun-soo is a young petty criminal recruited by the cops to infiltrate a drug ring. He’s sent off to prison where his willingness to fight guys twice his size gets him the attention of Jae-ho, a senior member of said criminal gang. Soon the two develop a father-son relationship and it’s unclear which side our undercover cop might choose.
Sadly, it proves tough to care. The plot unravels in a soup of thin characterisation and generic dialogue, and while director Byun Sung-hyun is technically proficient, the action scenes rarely catch fire. There’s a slick visual sheen, but the effect is unremarkable:
yellow-lit warehouses, meetings in car parks at twilight – it all just fails to wow.
South Korea has produced some jaw-dropping action thrillers in recent times – this year’s thunderous ‘The Villainess’ among them – but this one badly needed a bit more wit to go with the wallop.