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The Weekend Watch: The Childe

Director Park Hoon-jung gives violent noir an unusually humorous spin and makes a surprising star out of rom-com darling Kim Seon-ho.

The Spoiler-Free Plot

Marco Han (Kang Tae-ju) is a 24-year-old "kopino" (a term used to refer to a child of Korean and Filipino parents, sometimes in a derogatory fashion) who is desperate to earn money for his mother's operation. He enters all sorts of illegal fights and heists in Manila to earn a few bucks but ultimately believes that finding his Korean father would help solve all their financial woes. So focused is he on raising the needed cash that when a solicitor offers to fly him to Seoul to meet his Korean father, he agrees immediately.

But things take a turn when a strangely cheerful mercenary appears in Marco's life and warns him that things aren't as rosy as he thinks they will be. As soon as Marco lands in Seoul, his new friend's words start to prove true, and now the poor Kopino boxer is caught in the crossfire of strangers who seem to want to either take him hostage or kill him off. But why are they all after Marco? Where is his father? And more importantly, who is this mysterious new "friend" who seems to be so much more than the villain he appears to be?

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Marco and his mysterious "friend"

Our Review

To those who love the genre, noir is the bloody man with a gun, a bag of money, and an incredibly attractive lady. They steal into the night in a fast car and never stop to rest. Sometimes, there's a cheesy saxophone soundtrack. Often, there's a ton of sex. But surprisingly, not The Childe. Director Park has helmed so many noir movies that he has clearly mastered the rhythm of the ride and knows when to drive up or slacken the tension. You know you're in a Park Hoon-jung movie when the cigarettes are lit, the bubblegums are popping, and everything is in a filtered shade of blue. Oh, and the body count is pretty high, with a generous amount of carnage both at the beginning and end of the movie. Clearly, Park has a reverence for the classic formula, but this time, he takes his noir game even further by injecting an offbeat (and quite rare) sense of humor into the whole dark story. Then he adds a bit of a twist here and there, and just when you think you have it all figured out, he leans in and twists a little more. What results is a heady mix that uses the best chase clichés in the business with an extra layer of mind games and some dark laughs.

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Someone isn't happy about the new kid in town

Now "The Childe" wouldn't be as entertaining if it were placed in the hands of lesser actors, and this is the part of the review where we simply must give credit to the career-defining turn of Kim Seon-ho (Start-Up, Hometown Cha-cha-cha), who makes switching from rom-com heartthrob to glassy-eyed killer look a bit too effortless for comfort. Although rookie Kang Tae-ju (who plays the naive boxer Marco Han), small-screen crush Go Ara (who plays another assassin), and veteran actor Kim Kang-woo (who plays the unhinged eldest son) are also laudable in their efforts to bring bone-deep believability in their roles, it is Kim Seon-ho who is unquestionably the star of the whole film. From the moment his countenance appears in the very first bloody minutes to the movie's twisty epilogue, Kim Seon-ho brings an icy brightness to a role that demands he be both beautiful and brutal -- and boy, does he ever deliver. It is uncanny how his smile -- usually brimming with warmth and fondness in his past romantic roles -- is now a positively scary hallmark of this film's character. Paired with dead eyes and a physicality that both disturbs and titillates the audience, Seon-ho's turn as the mysterious and violent "friend" is definitely a memorable performance in the league of Korean noir and a promising portent of more film roles to come.

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A stellar big-screen turn for small-screen heartthrob Kim Seon-ho

Compared to the director's bloodier and more gratuitously violent past works, The Childe is noir haiku, perfect for people who dislike the overkill and find no joy in careless raunch and gore. It's a well-crafted movie, with all the nuts and bolts in place, devoid of forced epiphanies, but with a contemporary and humorous twist that even finds space to comment on the more hideous sides of family, wealth, selfishness, and the cruel reality of being an outsider. There are also clues strewn across the movie that makes one rethink the rather simplistic ending -- and this makes for some rather enjoyable conspiracy theories (and we'd totally be on board for a sequel).

However, Filipino fans will have a field day spotting the cracks in the Thai set design (the movie was shot in various parts of Bangkok to imitate Manila, where Marco is supposed to live in), and if you're eagle-eyed enough, you can spot some items that don't really belong. Also, because the movie makes good use of three languages (Korean, English, and Tagalog) and makes fun of various accents, there may be some confusion when some extremely important pieces of dialogue are spoken in Tagalog but aren't labeled as such. If the ending gets a bit muddy for you, something vital may have been lost in translation. In that case, we highly recommend asking your Tagalog-speaking friends about the third act.

All in all, The Childe is proof that there is still some creative room to be made in the tired noir category. It's a fresh variation on a bloody classic, and despite the obligatory gun-fu and gallons of blood and splatter, is actually marvelously good fun for the weekend.

The Childe is currently showing in movie theaters.

Watch if you like action thrillers with a good dose of mystery. Or if you're a fan of Kim Seon-ho, which is practically obligatory viewing at this point.

Skip if you would rather not see how high the body count of this movie goes.

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