Hot Blooded (Ddeu-geo-un pi) Image

Writer-director Cheon Myeong-Gwan’s Hot Blooded (Ddeu-geo-un pi) is about Korean gangster Hee-Soo (Hyun Bong-sik). Based on Kim Un-su’s novel, the plot sees our man trying to escape the gangster lifestyle by running a casino. However, the old ways come back to haunt Hee-Soo, and he is reintroduced to his past and gets caught in the crosshairs of a full-fledged war.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: this movie is not great or original in any way. I was fifteen minutes in and was already getting Carlito’s Way vibes; the filmmakers had just changed the country to Korea. Unfortunately, the film lacks the energy and presence that that classic had, especially in Al Pacino’s performance. Mostly, this is just gangsters shooting and yelling at each other without any type of civil resolution. The characters are incredibly one-dimensional and don’t seem to resonate with any feelings within audiences.

When he isn’t shooting or torturing people, our protagonist gangster is involved with a lover with whom he never seems to see eye-to-eye. On top of that, Hee-Soo is also caring for a grown man-child who looks up to him like a dad. The young man even asks Hee-Soo if he may call him father, and he ends up acquiescing. The gangster is, then, faced with the challenge of whether to continue to work in the salacious activity that he is in and be guilt-stricken with the number of people murdered or walk away with a target on his back.

“…Korean gangster Hee-Soo…trying to escape the gangster lifestyle by running a casino.”

Scenes go from either shooting to drug deals or to a dull romantic subplot that never captures any hearts or minds. I certainly didn’t feel anything when anyone got shot or stabbed because I didn’t get enough out of the characters to care. Believing things were wrapping up, I looked at the time remaining in Hot Blooded (aka Hot Blooded: Once Upon a Time in Korea). I saw that I was only thirty minutes in and still had another hour and a half to go. I had to watch the film in sections, taking breaks in between because of how much of an ordeal it was even to care about any of the characters. I was convinced that whenever a scene was over, the credits would roll. But it just kept going and going for seemingly, eons. I was really struggling through it, dozing off and on throughout.

That’s another thing about this that annoys me. It focuses more on gun fights and violence than actual people. Having a shootout or a chase sequence isn’t bad. And yes, those can carry a film, but it seems only fair to think about the human aspect and not put that part of the story in the backseat, so viewers care who is doing the shooting or getting shot.

On the positive side, Hot Blooded is shot with the subtlest of ease and is worthy of praise. Each frame alternates from either a long shot of fishing boats or a neo-realistic, vibrant K-pop scenery. To its credit, the film composes a symphony of the Korean landscape, whether beautiful or seedy.

Overall, Hot Blooded mostly failed to win me over, though the cinematography is something to marvel at. But Cheon Myeong-Gwan doesn’t do anything original with the material. Instead, the film often becomes something of a parody of its genre. There’s too much talking and shooting and not enough emoting to make its characters seem human.

Hot Blooded (2022)

Directed and Written: Cheon Myeong-Gwan

Starring: Hyun Bong-sik, Moo-Seong Choi, Jeong Ho-bin, etc.

Movie score: 4/10

Hot Blooded Image

"…composes a symphony of the Korean landscape whether it be beautiful or seedy."

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