Seen in Jeonju

Revenge Week: Day 4

11th July 2013

canton viper
It was only a matter of time before I had to touch on the kung fu craze that dominated Korean action films for more than two decades. They are unavoidable when discussing revenge and Korean cinema unless you are limiting the discussion to just recent films. From the mid-60s to the late-80s, literally hundreds of these martial arts action films were created either as co-productions with Hong Kong film companies or as imitations of that popular style. The background of the movie could be different—set in the distant past the film would often be about an evil bandit or warlord and his gang that are terrorizing the countryside and who may have killed the hero’s family. Or it might be set in pre-World War II Asia where the Japanese army is moving gold or supplies through the region and the best friend of the hero’s, more likely than not working for the Independence Army, is killed fighting for a cause that the hero will pick up. Set in modern times, the movie was likely to involve drug trafficking where, once again, the family and/or friend of the hero is killed or the movie would be about two martial arts academies/temples/schools of thought that are rivals and the bad school winds up killing a student or teacher from the good school, so revenge becomes the goal of the day.

In fact, I think it is nearly impossible to separate the element of vengeance from the vast majority of Korean action films from this period. So why not tackle it directly? That is exactly what actor/director Hwang Jeong-ri did in his 1983 creation Canton Viper aka Kwangdong Viper. The story begins typically enough in that the truly despicable villain of the piece, Cheon-soo, is on the loose in the region, killing, raping and stealing wherever he wishes. One of his victims is the mother of young Ma-ryong. Left to his own devices, the child vowed revenge against the murderous Cheon-soo. Ma-ryong spends the next two decades training himself in various forms of combat for the fateful day when he challenges Cheon-soo.

Unlike many similar films, that climatic battle does not occur at the end. Normally in a kung-fu film, if the hero meets the villain early, it results in the hero getting soundly thrashed and nearly killed, sending him back for a montage of recovery and training. Not so in Canton Viper. Ma-ryong defeats and executes the villainous Cheon-soo, but the story does not end there. Instead the focus switches to pre-teen Il-pyeong, the son of Cheon-soo. The boy vows vengeance against whoever it was who killed his father—he is a little unclear on the matter—and sets off into the mountains to find a master of the martial arts to train him in fighting. The mountains are no place for a child on his own, and Il-pyeong barely survives the trek. He is discovered by Ma-ryong and his companion and the pair nurse the boy back to health. Ma-ryong agrees to train the boy in how to fight but it is not long until the child realizes Ma-ryong is the man who killed his father. Ma-ryong decides to spare the boy decades of bitterness and stop the cancerous desire of vengeance before it can take root in the boy’s soul. Giving the boy a trident, Ma-ryong allows himself to be run through, allowing the boy to fulfill the promise he made to his father’s memory and freeing him to grow up with the gnawing thoughts of revenge that had haunted Ma-ryong all his life.

It is an interesting touch that the name of the main character Ma-ryong is generally a villain’s name (Ma literally meaning ‘devil’—Ma-ryong’s name literally means Devil Dragon). I think the point that Hwang wanted to get across is that in another story, Il-pyeong would have been the hero seeking revenge against the man who killed his father, the evilly named Devil Dragon.

I have included two links below. The first is for a website that shows the last two minutes of the film. The second is for the trailer which, to be honest, is not the better of the two things to watch. The trailer consists entirely of fight scenes and they are not the best choreographed that I have seen.

I admit that I have a hard time sitting through this style of action movie… But the ending is really quite good.

The end of Canton Viper (광동살무사 aka Kwangdong Viper)— Only visible if you have a NAVER Id… if you don’t have one, you can view the the scene near the end where Il-pyeong is goaded into stabbing his teacher– just they don’t show the very touching death scene… However, the whole movie is available to view on Youtube, so you can see it that way..


Now head over to Modern Korean Cinema and see what other films are being covered for REVENGE WEEK

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