Seoul police officer Jung Tae-soo is stunned when out of the blue he gets a phone call from his friends wife, Miran, informing him that her husband, and one of Tae-soo's oldest friends, Oh Wang-jae (Ahn Kil-kang), is dead. When he arrives at the funeral house in Onsung, it's a bittersweet reunion of sorts as he meets up with his childhood friends Pil-ho (Lee Beom-soo), Dongwan (Jeong Seok-yong), and Dongwan's younger brother Seok-hwan (writer/director/actor Ryoo Seung-wan), all of whom he hasn't seen in years. They head off to the bar that Wang-jae ran by himself and Tae-soo wants to know everything about his friends death. It seems that the bar was particularly busy on the day when a trio of thugs came in and started causing some commotion. Wang-jae, trying to best to keep a cool head, couldn't just let them harass his customers, so words are exchanged and the thugs begin to trash his bar. The three thugs then make a run for it, but Wang-jae being the old hardened ex-con that he is, followed in pursuit which ultimately led to him being stabbed in an alleyway scuffle. Tae-soo refuses to go back to Seoul until he sees this case closed and Seok-hwan has every intention of killing those responsible for Wang-jae's death. These two are taking matters into their own hands and are meeting resistance around every corner in the form of stylized teenage street gangs all too reminiscent of the 1979 film classic, "The Warriors."
As for the other two, a lot has changed in the ten years since Tae-soo has been home. Wang-jae used to be a high-ranking gang member who left the life and passed his position on to Pil-ho. Pil-ho is strong-arming the community in order for a casino to be built on a piece of land in total gang-leader fashion, and Dong-wan, having blown the family money on what he claimed was "scholarly pursuits", has in reality been spending it all on drugs. After the police starting shutting down all of Pil-ho's boys, Dong-wan started sending over his students to work for Pil-ho in exchange for market space for his mother. Mr. Jo, a casino operator from Seoul, started making things more difficult for Pil-ho by threatening their partnership, amongst other things, if he didn't get the land for the casino. Things really came to a head when Pil-ho, using the funds from his Seoul partners, began loan-sharking operations to people around town. Wang-jae and Pil-ho's falling out resulted from Pil-ho basically ruining the town by trying to rule it with an iron fist. Now everything is a mess with Tae-soo and Seok-hwan working desperately to try and find Wang-jae's killer; Dong-wan trying to redeem himself as more than a junkie; and Pil-ho losing his way because of a power-hungry mentality.
There is always something a little depressing about a storyline that shows childhood friends growing apart as they get older. It's also a story that many of us can relate to because we ourselves have experienced it. Granted, the angle that The City Of Violence takes with this premise is much darker than the lives of the average joe. The search for those behind the murder of a friend and straight-up revenge are what fuel this, at-times, action-packed ride. The fighting, when it happens, is filmed rather well and is definitely entertaining to watch. The finale, where the casino members meet, is the clear stand-out scene with wonderful sword-play and martial-arts choreography taking place. Triple-threat Ryoo Seung-wan definitely knows what he's doing behind the camera and his unique style of filming, especially the fight scenes, are refreshing to say the least. The acting, while given many opportunities to be portrayed in an over-the-top fashion, is handled in a more admirable way making for a cast of interesting characters. Lee Beom-soo as Pil-ho is definitely the one to watch in this film.
Truth be told, the story in The City Of Violence, while not completely engrossing, is overshadowed by some rather exceptional action scenes. Die-hard martial-arts fans will definitely get their money's worth out of this film, and in regards to the fighting, it's a rare treat to see such style coming out of Korea. With my bad-luck streak of movies reviewed lately, I'll gladly take above-average. (Lee)