No Tears for the Dead Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by Lee Jeong-beom
2014, Region A, 116 minutes, Not rated
Blu-ray released on February 17th, 2015
Jang Dong-gun as Gon
Kim Min-hee as Mo-gyeong
Brian Tee as Chaoz
Dana Lee as Dai Ban
Anthony Dillo as Juan
Alexander Wraith as Alvaro
Kim Hee-Won as Byun
Gon, a Korean-American hitman working for the triads in California, completes his latest mission but leaves some collateral damage in his wake. He is pressured by his boss to accept a follow-up assignment involving a loose end in Korea, and has little choice but to oblige. It is not exactly a spoiler to reveal that his mistake was shooting an innocent child and his punishment is to kill her mother, Mo-gyeong. What should be a routine job turns out to be a moment of clarity for this seasoned professional looking to retire. Gon is unexpectedly wracked with guilt for what he has done and instead decides to protect his intended target. This decision does not sit well with the triad boss, who sends a trio of replacement killers to clean up this mess. Gon is placed in the difficult position of choosing between honoring his professional code and following his moral compass. He has a much bigger problem, however, in that his co-workers do not share his crisis of conscience.
No Tears for the Dead is not your typical “hitman with a heart of gold” story, as writer/ director Lee Jeong-beom (Cruel Winter Blues) deliberately paces his plot to gain the highest emotional impact from the material and displays a real skill at exploring the grieving process as both our lead characters deal with a tragic loss. Cinematic comparisons can be drawn from a wide range of films like John Woo's The Killer and Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. Some critics have oddly mentioned The Professional, but this association only works if Leon had accidentally killed Matilda at the beginning of that movie. Jaded action fans are quick to complain that the first half of the picture is too introspective and plodding, but this time is actually spent exploring the vulnerabilities of the characters before throwing them into giant action set-pieces. Once the second wave of assassins arrives, there is little time for anything but adrenaline and although Lee Jeong-beom's previous movie Man from Nowhere (2010) struck a stronger balance in tone, Tears handles the shift nicely. The director is telling a very specific story, despite the familiar elements, and will not be rushed in the delivery. Viewers will get all the mayhem they came for, but will have to be patient before the reward.
Jang Dong-gun (My Way) gives a stunning performance as the haunted and complex Gon, a man whose pain is enhanced by placing himself in close proximity to a woman he has accidentally devastated. He shares her pain, but cannot tell her why. Matching Jang's lead is Kim Min-hee (Helpless) as the grieving Mo-gyeong, and while the two have limited interaction, they share a strong onscreen chemistry. She provides a much needed strength to her character and this is most apparent as she conducts her daily responsibilities, both personal and professional, while dealing with the pain of her loss. Gon's back-story is slowly presented in a series of flashbacks that reveal his motivation for helping Mo-gyeong without completely filling in his history, and the plot ties these characters together in a satisfying manner. The supporting cast is equally impressive, particularly Brian Tee (The Wolverine) as Chaoz, a fellow hit-man who shares a deep history with Gon.
Cinematographer Lee Mo-gae (I Saw the Devil) is quickly becoming a star in his own right and he creates a gorgeous lighting pattern that reflects the emotional state of the characters. Mo-gyeong's home is a cold and empty pale palette, while Gon's memories of growing up in America accentuate the rustic desert setting. In addition to the look of the picture, the numerous action scenes are beautifully shot and viewers are never lost in a confusing jumble of 'edit soup', for Lee Jeong-beom knows how to direct this type of material. Another nice touch to the film is the sporadic use of dialogue, which is spoken in both Korean and English, with the language barrier playing a key part in at least one sequence. No Tears for the Dead is not the home run that Man from Nowhere was, but is still quite a satisfying film.
Video and Audio:
No Tears for the Dead receives an impressive video transfer presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors are quite strong and black levels are solid with plenty of small-object detail. This is a recent production shot on digital HD cameras, so there is no issue with the condition of source material; everything looks terrific.
There are two pair of audio options included, one set in Korean and the other featuring an English dub. Both languages offer a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. I don't really know why you would deliberately choose a 2.0 track on an action film, but it is a thoughtful addition. No Tears for the Dead features dialogue in both Korean and English, with English subtitles provided. I listened to both of the 5.1 tracks, and while they each feature an awesome use of surrounds during the parts that go boom, I have to question why the English audio dubbing doesn't follow the subtitle translation more closely, as it is a superior script.
The making of No Tears for the Dead (27 minutes) is exactly what you would expect; a behind-the-scenes look at the production, featuring (subtitled) interviews intercut with on-set material and scenes from the film. This is a well-crafted piece that is informative, if a bit routine. The most interesting segment shows how certain camera rigs were developed for various action scenes. Another highlight reveals tensions on location between the Koreans and their American counterparts in filming the flashbacks in the desert.
A collection of deleted scenes (7 minutes) bring little to the table and were wisely trimmed.
I'm not really sure why the “director's commentary” is actually a three-minute video interview of the director commenting on his process, but...semantics.
Actor Brian Tee discusses the novelty of a sympathetic killer in a two-minute interview.
A pair of three-minute videos offer a glimpse at the action highlights of the film along with shots of the crew at work. Nothing too deep here, mostly just promotional stuff.
A short teaser trailer and a pair of character based TV spots round out the special features on the disc.