Part political treatise, part spaghetti western, with kicky audio-visual touches that evoke a Sergio Leone-Quentin Tarantino mashup, "Kundo: Age of the Rampant" is an often entertaining if overlong look at the last days of Korea's Joseon Dynasty.
Set in the mid-19th century, a brutal era when the rulers are greedy tyrants and most others are paupers, the film follows the path of the Kundo, a fierce, Robin Hood-like posse that fights for the weak and disenfranchised. Its motto: "United we are people, divided we are thieves."
But trumping the powers that be is, of course, no easy task for these benevolent outlaws, who include a lowly butcher-turned-feared warrior (Ha Jung-woo), a no-nonsense Buddhist known as the Vicious Monk (Lee Gyeong-young) and an underdefined array of intrepid cohorts. Their chief target: Jo Yoon (Kang Dong-won), a corrupt governor's illegitimate, bad-egg son who, among other dastardly deeds, has unjustly seized the land of a horde of illiterate peasants.
Although the script by Jeon Cheol-hong proves a bit jumpy and dense as it meshes historical elements with its twisty revenge plot, director Yoon Jong-bin largely keeps things lively. Strong cinematography, an enjoyably retro score and a series of well-executed, thankfully unfussy fight scenes (the bamboo forest showdown is especially nifty) add distinction.
The tone veers from severe to tongue in cheek but is mostly kept in balance. An anachronistic overuse of the F-bomb as well as an odd penis gag seem questionable.
"Kundo: Age of the Rampant."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 2 hour, 17 minutes. In Korean with English subtitles.