Gangster

The Divine Move (2014)

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The Asian chess-like game of Go, or in this case, Baduk, gets deadly in this action thriller from director Jo Bum-Gu.

Tae-Seok is a young man whose skills in the game of baduk has led him to help his elder brother Woo-Seok, who’s in a jam. Woo-Seok has been challenged to take on “Player”, a gangster working for one of the most vicious crime lords in the area, Sal-Soo, also known as the Killer. When the ruse is discovered, Tae-Seok is brutally beaten and Woo-Seok is mercilessly killed by the Killer, who frames Tae-Seok for the murder.

Imprisoned for seven years, Tae-Seok learns to fight with the help of an elder prisoner and his men. Perfecting his skills, he is offered to join the elder prisoner after he is released. Tae-Seok would love to take the offer, but at the moment, he has one thing on his mind: avenging his brother. To do so, he changes his look and goes after each of Killer’s men by challenging them to baduk and then getting his revenge, until he can get to the man himself in a game that will decide who lives and who dies.

A truly brutal film, director Jo Bum-Gu takes You Sung-Hyup’s script about a baduk player who uses his game and fight skills to seek revenge, is quite interesting. For those unfamiliar with baduk, or the game go, it is similar to chess that it involves strategy but involves the use of “territories”. The game plays a crucial factor in the film overall as the game ultimately leads to violence throughout the film.

Jung Woo-Sung truly makes an impact in the film as the revenge-seeking Tae-Seok, who goes from a bushy, bearded scared man to a clean cut revenge seeker in the film. It is apparent he only has one thing on his mind after getting brutalized, seeing his brother dead and then getting framed for that death. Seeing Tae-Seok train to fight is quite an interesting training montage seen that leads to the quest for revenge.

Some of the thugs in the film are incredibly vicious. Notably Choi Jin-Hyuk’s “Player” and the big boss himself, Lee Beom-Soo’s “Killer”. They are inexplicably mean-spirited and when things don’t go their way, they resort to violence and this leads to Tae-Seok using an “eye for an eye”. The character of “Tricks”, played by Kim In-Kwon provides some hysterical comic relief in the vein of Joe Pesci’s Leo Getz in the Lethal Weapon films as he is a talkative slapstick goofball. Ahn Sung-Ki does quite well as another sidekick, “The Lord”, an elder expert who joins Tae-Seok as well.

In charge of the action scenes is Seoul Action School’s Choi Bong-Rok. Choi has the cast use close quarter combat as well as some technical style fighting. However, the close quarter style brings a more brutal, realistic style of fighting that looks at times very heart-pounding and exciting. In an exciting scene, Tae-Seok actually competes in a game of baduk against an opponent inside of a room in near sub-zero temperatures that leads to an all out knife fight between the duo. The climactic finale is also quite exciting and shows Jung at the top of his game.

The Divine Move is a pretty good movie that shows Jung Woo-Sung in his one of his best performances. The concept of turning baduk into a potential “game of death” is quite interesting and the combat scenes are nicely done. A definite rental with strong optional purchase.

WFG RATING: B+

CJ Entertainment presents a Showbox/Mediaplex production. Director: Jo Bum-Gu. Producers: Park Man-Hee, Yu Jeong-Heon, and Hwang Geun-Ha. Writer: Yu Seong-Hyeop. Cinematography: Kim Dong-Young. Editing: Shin Min-Kyung.

Cast: Jung Woo-Sung, Lee Beom-Soo, Choi Jin-Hyuk, Kim Myung-Soo, Ahn Sung-Ki, Kim in-Kwon, Lee Si-Young, Ahn Gil-Kang, Lee Do-Kyung, Jung Hae-Kyun, Ahn Seo-Hyun.

 

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Johnny Dangerously (1984)

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This 80’s underrated comedy is a funny tribute to the classic gangster film full of funny performances and gags that even holds in today’s standards.

As a teenager hawking newspapers in 1910 New York City, Johnny Kelly is just trying to make a living to help his constantly ailing mother. When he gets into a fight with rival Danny Vermin, his victory attracts the attention of local gangster Jocko Dundee. At first, Johnny refuses to help. That is until his mother needs an operation. Johnny decides to help Dundee against arch nemesis Roman Moronie and when they succeed, Johnny temporarily works for Jocko.

Flash forward twenty-five years later. Johnny is now a full-time member of Dundee’s gang and goes by the name “Johnny Dangerously”. He manages to get his younger brother through law school, becomes well-respected, and owns a local nightclub. He even finds love in Lil Sheridan, a singer who comes to New York to make it big. However, when Johnny learns his old rival Danny is now a member of the gang and that Jocko is contemplating retirement, Johnny finds himself in a whirl of trouble when he learns his brother, now the District Attorney, vows to find “Johnny Dangerously” and stop him. To make matters worse, Danny tries to take over the gang and finds any way to ensure he gets the top position.

The classic gangster film is a wonderful look at how “crime will never pay” and always ends up with the lead character meeting his fate in one way or another. This film answers the question what if the gangster film was made into a comedy and the gangster didn’t meet his fate, but ended up finding a better life through leaving the gang? This film answers that very question and proves to be quite a comical homage to the genre.

Michael Keaton brings such comic flair as the titular Johnny Dangerously, who meshes perhaps his best Jimmy Cagney impression with the comedy he was known for at the time. He couldn’t fit the role any better while Joe Piscopo’s Danny Vermin brings the Clark Gable look but gives a voice that could be said to be an impression of another classic gangster actor, Edward G. Robinson. While Dangerously is the benevolent gangster who only wants what’s best for everyone, Vermin intends to take over the gang when he feels the gang needs to be eviller. Vermin’s running joke is also quite funny to watch.

Peter Boyle is great to see as Johnny’s potential boss, Jocko Dundee, bringing back memories of the classic gangster boss to a tee even though in one scene, his brings his comic flair in a hilarious way. Marilu Henner’s Lil Sheridan will remind viewers of the likes of some of the classic 1930’s molls, such as Karen Morley with a taste of Rita Hayworth in her musical number. One of the highlights of the film is Richard Dimitri’s Roman Maronie, who butchers the typical curse words all to give the film a rightful PG rating.

In what could be homage to Cagney’s The Public Enemy, Griffin Dunne is both serious and funny in certain points to see as Tommy, Johnny’s brother who soon finds himself rising up the ranks to become the District Attorney and vows to stop Johnny Dangerously, not knowing until it is too late that Dangerously is his own brother. Maureen Stapleton is also funny as the wise-cracking mother of the Kelly Brothers, who finds herself constantly working too hard or sick, or taking one in the gut from Johnny. Add to the fact, she just is completely brunt. Some great cameos, both short and extended, from the likes of Dom DeLuise, Danny DeVito, Ray Walston (who has a running gag himself), and Alan Hale Jr. just add to the hilarity.

Johnny Dangerously is a fun tribute to the classic gangster film with some fun gags, a dazzling musical number, but most importantly, some great performances led by Michael Keaton in one of his best early roles.

WFG RATING: A

20th Century Fox an Edgewood Productions film. Director: Amy Heckerling. Producer: Michael Hertzberg. Writers: Harry Colomby, Jeff Harris, Bernie Kukoff, and Norman Steinberg. Cinematography: David M. Walsh. Editing: Pem Herring.

Cast: Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo, Marilu Henner, Peter Boyle, Richard Dimitri, Maureen Stapleton, Griffin Dunne, Glynnis O’Connor, Scott Thomson, Dick Butkus, Mike Barcella, Danny DeVito, Dom DeLuise, Byron Thames, Ray Walston.

Scarface (1932)

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Before Al Pacino’s Tony Montana declared the world was his, Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte declared the same thing in this original film based on the Armitage Trail novel.

Italian immigrant Tony Camonte has been hired as a gangster in 1930’s Chicago under Johnny Lovo, who had just ordered a hit on south side boss “Big” Louis Castillo so he can become the new boss. Lovo has a plan to take over all of the speakeasies in the south side of town. However, Tony decides to invade the turf of Irish gangster boss O’Hara on the north side and blow up one of the speakeasies. Despite Lovo’s objections, Camonte continues to wage war to take over the north side. Lovo soon realizes his one-time key lieutenant is out of control.

To make matters worse, Tony begins falling for Poppy, who is Lovo’s moll. Poppy and Tony begin to see each other discreetly. Tony also becomes too much of an overprotective brother to eighteen-year old sister Cesca, who falls for Tony’s friend Guido. Tony eventually becomes the boss of the north side and Johnny, realizing Tony may want to control all of Chicago, sets a plan in motion to get rid of Tony. This becomes the least of Tony’s problems as the police are even after him for all he has done.

While most fans of today’s generation are more familiarized with the 1983 film to star Al Pacino as a ruthless Cuban gangster who takes the Miami drug world by storm, they may not realize that that film is a modern update to this 1932 classic, based on a 1929 novel loosely based itself on the rise and fall of notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone. Screenwriter Ben Hecht, having written the script in 1931, got the approval of producer Howard Hughes, who after going to his own war with the recently established Hays Code, told director Howard Hawks to make the film and to bring a sense of realism and for 1930’s Prohibition-era gangster films, this one delivers. There is also a glimpse of the classic “The World is Yours” that Tony sees as his motto to becoming the ultimate opportunist, in this case, biggest crime boss in Chicago.

Paul Muni brings an excellent performance as the titular Scarface, Tony Camonte. What is interesting is Tony’s calling card, a precursor to when the viewer will know when someone will meet their fate is the use of whistling a tune. This brings a sense of being different from various gangsters of the era. Whereas the gangsters of this era would just go for the jugular, Tony’s use of whistling sends out a warning to his potential victim. As an immigrant trying to make it in Chicago, Camonte aspires to be the best, but must contend with a variety of obstacles from rival gangsters to the police to even his own sister, whose move into adulthood forces Tony to become the overprotective big brother.

Ann Dvorak is pretty good as Cesca, Tony’s younger sister who just wants to enjoy being an adult but makes a dangerous decision to pursue Tony’s friend Guido, played by George Raft. Their relationship is remade by Steven Bauer’s Manny and Mary Elizabeth Mastratonio’s Gina in the remake. The character of Poppy, played by Karen Morley truly personifies the gold digger, opting to leave Johnny for Tony at first discreetly but then more of a relationship that doesn’t have a chance to truly make an impact as much as Tony Montana and Elvira in the remake, but helps drive the gangster to kill his former boss, played by Osgood Perkins.

There was an original ending that met Camonte’s fate in a different way, but it was deemed too controversial, so a more fitting end was shot. Nevertheless, the original Scarface is quite a classic gangster film driven by great performances, especially Paul Muni in the titular role.

WFG RATING: A-

A United Artists Film. Director: Howard Hawks. Producer: Howard Hughes. Writer: Ben Hecht; based on the novel by Armitage Trail. Cinematography: Lee Garmes and L.W. O’Connell. Editing: Edward Curtiss.

Cast: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, Osgood Perkins, George Raft, Boris Karloff, C. Henry Gordon, Vince Barnett, Purnell Pratt.