Sunflower (2006)

Director: Kang Seok-beom Starring: Kim Rae-won, Kim Hae-sook Runtime: 117 minutes Country: South Korea

Released from prison after serving a ten-year sentence, reformed ex-gangster Oh Tae-sik (Kim Rae-won) goes to live with an adopted mother. He finds work as an auto mechanic and tries to live a quiet life with his new family. His efforts are threatened when a politician seeks to knock the family restaurant down to build a mall.

Sunflower is a gangster film with the structure of a martial arts film wherein the martial arts master eschews violence. The martial arts master, in this case, is no martial art master, but, rather a reformed ex-gangster who, after completing a ten-year prison sentence, seeks a quiet life with a woman who, for reasons revealed later in the film, takes him in as her own son. Aficionados of the genre are in for a disappointment, as the film offers very little of the "hyperviolence" commonly associated with South Korean gangster films aside from the occasional beating Tae-sik endures as local gangs attempt to provoke him. The film makes sure to remove any trace of moral ambiguity so we know exactly when to boo and when to hiss.

Sunflower seems to argue that violence is not the solution; yet, ultimately, the film essentially burns its own thesis of reform, redemption, forgiveness, and nonviolence to the ground and pisses on the ashes when, after an hour and forty-five minutes of building up tension, Tae-sik inevitably snaps and beats the snot out of an entire club full of gangsters and bashes one character's brains in. I fully expected the film to take this predictable route and, when it did, I expected an amazing fight scene to reward my patience, which, by then, was stretched paper thin. Again, Sunflower has nothing to offer but bitter disappointment. The climactic showdown consists of a tediously choreographed bits of fighting interspersed between bouts of heavy breathing and Tae-sik howling in slow motion. Afterward, we're further "rewarded" with an ending that offers painfully little closure. In other words, this poorly executed film has no payoff.


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