There’s something downright philosophical about it. Abour gratuitous violence. About all the things that can happen to a human body. I’m not just talking your average big guy with a machine-gun mows ’em down; I’m talking about guys who are seriously screwed up, seriously screwing up other people. Guns, fists, knives, stabbing weapons – it’s all good. Here are some of the best and most violent movies I’ve discovered from that wackjob realm we call Southeast Asia – I’ve tried to limit this list to one movie by each director, I guess so that maybe you can seek out the rest…

As for the Extreme Meter, that guages only the brutality of the violence. Let’s say that a 1/5 is like… La Femme Nikita. Violent, but not very. A 3/5 would be something in the range of City of God. Violent, but not overmuch. 5/5 would be like Ichi the Killer. But that movie is stupid. There’s not gonna be any tongue-in-cheek, Crank-like goofy violent movies. Sorry Ryuhei Kitamura.

The Man from Nowhere (2010)
Director: Jeong-beom Lee
Stars: Bin Won, Sae-ron Kim

This movie is pretty good. It holds your attention in between the set-pieces – but the reason to watch this film is for the ending fight sequence. It’s not enough to just research it on YouTube (I’ll provide the link), because that way you don’t get the catharsis. These assholes deserved what came to them, and holy crap did they get it bad.

Up until the ending we have a slow build of character, and I was pulled in… mostly. I hesitate to call this movie truly affecting, and it did afterall go for the happy ending, which can’t really be said for any of the other movies on this list.

It’s a good flick, very solid. I just wish he would’ve cut that stupid hair earlier. And isn’t that guy the guy who played Private Nam in JSA? I swear to God it is… I guess that makes me a racist.

Extreme Meter: 3/5

A Better Tomorrow II (1987)
Director: John Woo
Stars: Leslie Cheung, Yun-Fat Chow

Yes, even a John Woo movies gets a place here. Even though movies like Hard-Boiled and The Killer and even Face/Off are more remembered for the action and less for the bloody violence, A Better Tomorrow II shows the more brutal side of the director. The climatic gun battle is awash in crimson, and it shows up perfectly on those white walls. The scene is also notable for two later influnces: Cowboy Bebop and Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction. According to Wikipedia, anyway, Tarantino got the inspiration for the suits from this movie, and they sure do know how to take bullets. For Cowboy Bebop, we have a moment where two duellists kick guns over to each other before they fight, echoed in the final episode of the anime.

At one point the hero has a samurai sword, and I was recalled to another movie set in the modern day where a sword was used – The Yakuza. A great movie, but when people got slashed in the stomach they didn’t spray their insides out and flip over in slow-motion.

As a matter of fact, everything about this movie is extreme. The melodrama is cranked up to 11, and it may not work quite as well when the case was the same in Bullet in the Head, but it works to create an atmosphere thick with What the Fuck? moments, which is what counts here. It’s full of surreal moments, including those with the saddest gangster ever, and lousy, dirty Americans who not only partake in a terrorist bombing – in New York – but act overly aggressive and smash their plates at Chow Yun-Fat’s restaurant yelling – in slow-motion – FUCKING RICE!

It’s pretty wild, but like all of John Woo’s movies – with key exceptions *Paycheck* I guess – surprisingly emotionally effective at points. Whereas Bullet in the Head and A Better Tomorrow and The Killer were better at the melodrama and and had better character moments, this movie gets there halfway, but totally kicks your ass to make up for it…

Extreme Meter: 2/5

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
Director: Chan-Wook Park
Stars: Kang-ho Song, Ha-Kyun Shin

This movie is slow, contemplative, brooding, sometimes even cute – and all of a sudden something changes and people are dying. Then, people are killing, and it’s crazy. The turning point in this movie hits you just as hard as Ryu pops that guy on the back of the head with the baseball bat. Goddamn. The scene where he takes vengeance on the organ dealers was for a time the most violent thing I had ever seen in a movie. But then I saw Irreversible.

Unlike Irreversible though, I really like this movie. It’s all about misfortunes and lives unraveling around each character, as well as how these people deal with that.

Extreme Meter: 4/5

I Saw the Devil (2010)
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Stars: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi

Halfway through the movie I figured that I Saw the Devil was going to just be a depressed movie with no moral compass; appropriate then, that its fight scenes are incredibly brutal, and the violence totally over-the-top. And yet, the realism never wavers, even as people are having ankle surgery.

Choi Min-sik is no stranger to villains – whether he’s the North Korean terrorist from Shiri or Mr. Baek, child killer from Lady Vengeance, he always hits his mark despite looking pretty harmless. In those two movies though we never got to really see him go at it, and in this one he’s pretty wild. Several attempted rapes, several bludgeonings, several stabbings. He’s a savage dude, but this movie asks… were we to go after him, would we not become him?

It’s either the Nietzsche line or I guess don’t fight the monster lest you become it or whatever. In the end, this movie is about empty people and how like in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the snowball effect leaves everybody’s lives either taken or ruined. Pretty cynical, but perhaps logical given the subject matter.

This really does feel like somebody saw the Vengeance Trilogy and wanted to one-up it. It’s not as poetic or as beautifully shot/composed as Park’s movies (it comes close), but it’s a hell of a lot more violent. Holy crap. Lot of cringe-inducing moments.

Extreme Meter: 5/5

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