Currently showing on Netflix, “No Tears for the Dead” is a high-energy Korean action–drama originally released in 2014. Written and directed by Lee Jeong-beom, the film stars Jang Dong-gun, Kim Min-hee, and Brian Tee and a multi-national supporting cast of Korean and American actors in an intense story of a guilt-ridden hit man who risks everything for redemption.
After a life spent as a contract killer in LA, Gon (Jang) accepts a fateful assignment from his boss to kill an informant and retrieve a USB containing valuable data. The job goes wrong when, along with the target, he kills an innocent little girl. His horrible deed sends him spiraling into alcohol and remorse until his boss tracks him down and orders him to make up for his mistake: Gon has to return to Korea and retrieve the USB which the boss now suspects is with the informant’s wife, Mo-kyeong (Kim). She is also the mother of the little girl that he shot. Gon’s orders are to kill her: she is a loose end that needs to be tied up. Instead, Gon sees a chance to redeem himself and he decides to be her guardian angel and protect her from his boss and the other hit men, including his long time co-worker Chaoz, (Tee), sent to make sure he doesn’t fail this time.
Director Lee spent months in gun and combat-training school to gain experience in staging the fight scenes. The main actors benefit from his experience and are very convincing in their roles. As the psychologically conflicted Gon, Jang brings tortured personality to the hit man with a dark past trying to come to terms with his terrible mistake. As Mo-kyeong, Kim is a woman who has shut down her emotions as the mother of a murdered child, initially just going through the act of day to day survival until she is thrown into frantically trying to escape her killers.
The film is really well shot and choreographed. Lee is a director known for his beautifully crafted fight scenes and he doesn’t disappoint in the gritty action scenes, getting blood spattered, up close and personal with his camera. Strong lighting and key close-ups help to establish the emotional content of the story, which is enhanced by the well chosen guitar soundtrack. The plot is sometimes hard to follow as it jumps around between characters and locations. There are lots of flashbacks to Gon’s traumatizing childhood and insight into Mo-kyeong’s life as she cares for her old mother, both of which add depth to their characters but end up distracting from the main plot. The language barrier might contribute to some of this confusion, although all the Korean dialogue is sub-titled.
Despite the difficulties with plot structure, “No Tears for the Dead” is a film that shouldn’t be missed. First rate fight scenes supply the action while an intense and emotional story is played out by colourful characters that actually have depth and layers. Lee has said he wanted to make an action movie that you would watch and not forget. He succeeded.
DVD and Blu-ray release date Feb. 17, 2015.