Originally released in South Korea in 2006, Righteous Ties is an odd blend of prison movie and comedy. Heart-rending betrayals are set against gangster parody. Goofy characters intermingle with the depressed. Brutal violence intermingles with light humor. And while this mix manages to subvert cliches, it also keeps the viewer at a distance.
At the start, right hand man Chi Sung (Jae-Yeong Jeong) carries out a job that gets him caught by the police, and thanks to loyalty to the gang he refuses to reveal the man who gave him the order. Once in prison, he falls in with a strange crew led by Soon Tal (Seung-Yong Ryoo), a gangster who was once Chi Sung’s friend and was supposed to have been executed. This strange crew shares a cell and Chi Sung gets a feel for what it will be like on the inside.
As good as things seems to be going, they are about to get real bad for Chi Sung, as his boss – whom he’s shown nothing but loyalty – decides to have Chi Sung offed as a deal point with another gangster. Enraged by this, Chi Sung vows to escape and have his revenge. Soon Tal is down with that, too. But first they’ll have to go through Ju Joong (Jun-Ho Jeong), who is the boss’ new right hand man and also an old friend.
Righteous Ties is a fairly standard crime story, though the sometimes light tone sets it apart from the rest. Director Jang Jin will interrupt a build up to revenge with a gaggle of school girls crossing the road. It works in undercutting what would normally be a glamorization of machismo and/or the gangster lifestyle of violence and power. But it also doesn’t work in the sense that by undercutting these moments, it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Should we feel bad at all when Chi Sung is betrayed by the man he dedicated his entire life to? My guess would be yes, but then is the movie laughing at me for feeling this way?
The positive aspect of this is that it keeps the viewer off guard at all times. Will this scene lead to a brutal beat down of an inmate? Or an amusing conversation? There’s really no way to tell. So even though the movie follows along the lines of the standard themes of family, friendship and loyalty, moment to moment it is completely different than other movies of its ilk. The effect isn’t dazzling so much as novel.
There was no info included with the disc, but as far as I can guess, the film is presented in what appears to be 1.85:1 non-anamorphic video and well shot. The audio is presented in Korean with English subtitles.
There are no extras on the disc.
Righteous Ties is a clever twist on a well worn genre, though the blending of crime and comedy doesn’t always work.
Virgil Films presents Righteous Ties. Directed by: Jang Jin. Starring: Jae-Yeong Jeong, Jun-Ho Jeong, Seung-Yong Ryoo. Written by: Jang Jin. Running time: 128min. Rating: N/A. Released on DVD: January 26, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.