The Legend Of 7 Cutter (Kariseuma talchulgi)
Korea (2006) Dir. Kwon Nam-Ki
Having a reputation is one thing – living up to it is another. But what happens if you have someone else’s reputation and it benefits you to live up to it anyway? That is the interesting premise behind this high school comedy; at least I think it is – there is a LOT going on in this debut from Kwon Nam-Ki.
At the centre of this haphazard tale is the urban legend of fearsome fighter Jung Han-soo, a black clad tough guy allegedly capable of dispensing gangs of opponents alone and leaving his calling card, a 7 centimetre slash made with a box cutter, hence the name “7 Cutter”. For the staff and students at Seong Ji High School, they might be able to find out the truth first hand when Han-soo is about to transfer as a new student.
However, this Jung Han-soo (Ahn Jae-mo) is a slightly gauche, passive chap, very aware of the mistaken identity which he can’t shake. Then Han-soo falls for school princess Lee Yoon-ah (Han Da-min) but also ends up on the wrong side of tomboy boxer Han Min-joo (Yoon Eun-hye). To stop her from getting the wrong idea and harassing him, Han-soo pretends to be in love with Min-joo, but she falls for him instead.
From this convoluted plot synopsis, you can gather that writers Oh Sang-ho and Huh Jung had a lot of ideas to spare but felt cramming then into the one script. To make matters worse there is still a lot more to the story we haven’t discussed yet, further confusing the audience as to what kind of film this was supposed to be.
The opening scene, a tense rain soaked fight sequence shot at night boasts deliberate overtones of a crime based action thriller before the narrator of the tale is revealed to be a schoolboy slacker. He is one of the lackeys of resident tough guy Baek Sung-gi (Lee Jeong) who immediately picks a fight with Han-soo upon arrival but forever the victim of circumstance, Han-soo accidentally wins the fight and Sung-gi’s servitude.
Elsewhere sexy teacher Miss Kim (Hyun Young) is being pursued by unappealing feckless gym teacher Mr. Koh (Jeong Jun-ha), who also happens to be the object of affection for Min-joo’s nerdy friend Kang Hae-soo (Park Seul-gi). This love triangle never amounts to anything which is a shame, as the comic potential due to the trio’s awkward personalities is wholly evident.
While a three-way embarrassment is not on the cards, that doesn’t stop Koh and Kim descending into realms of louche chaos through the former’s unsuccessful attempts to woo his unwilling would-be paramour. Along with providing some amusing highlights, they also overlap into the teen gross out comedy of the antics of Sung-gi and his gormless gang for the next element of this genre mash up.
Looking to outdo American Pie and other unsavoury US teen comedies, the film indulges its murkier side with some disturbing pranks that will appeal to the more base minds out there. If literal toilet humour or the idea of a live octopus stuffed down someone’s boxer shorts is your idea of a good laugh then you are sufficiently satiated here – for the rest of us it is likely to elicit a guilty giggle.
Yet there lies a serious exploration of the value of friendship and the folly of bullying beneath this mire of tawdry humour that surfaces around the midway mark, bringing with it not just a change of tone but also in Han-soo’s character too. Witnessing feeble Pyo Jung-shik (Joo Ho) being victimised by Sung-gi, Han-soo steps in, delivers a beating of his own to Sung-gi then befriends Jung-shik.
If you wondering how such a meek guy like Han-soo is suddenly capable of using his fists that is something explained later in the film, but at this juncture it is an unexpected turnabout in his demeanour to facilitate the events of the final act. That isn’t to say Han-soo turns into a thug himself as he is still the nice guy and he gives Jung-shik a reason to smile for once, reinforcing his nice guy credentials.
By now the plot has covered another genre staple, the school drama, and the subject of bullying is a ripe one in Korean cinema that is still explored ten years later. What is more frustrating is that we are still watching because there is an innate charm to the characters and a perverse hook that keeps us invested in how it will turn out, even if the execution is woefully erratic.
Perhaps most egregious personality change is in Min-joo. Thankfully she doesn’t all girly with make-up and pretty dresses and maintains her feisty side; the change comes after building up her boxing prowess and physical toughness, yet in the climax when she is kidnapped by a group of thugs seeking revenge against Han-soo, she doesn’t put up the slightest fight.
Simply put, making her damsel in distress feels like a cheap copout for an otherwise well drawn female character, whose likeability is made possible through the charismatic performance of Yoon Eun-hye. Conversely Ahn Jae-mo has a hard time navigating the changes in Han-soo’s personality, not helped by the fact that Ahn was 27 years-old at the time of filming!
In fact, none of the teens were played by teen actors which was either a rib on the US practice of casting twenty-somethings, a simple lack of confidence in Korean teen actors, or perhaps a way to circumvent censoring the adult content without corrupting minors. Either way adds to the overall confusion about the film’s intentions.
Had The Legend Of 7 Cutter stuck to one genre or focused on one storyline it might have been an interesting film, but its dabbling in multiple genres results in confusion. This may explain why director Kwon Nam-Ki hasn’t made another film since, but flaws and all, this is an unexpectedly passable time waster if you have the patience to tolerate its schizophrenia.