No matter what culture they represent, movies that feature good guys versus bad guys are always popular. Rooting for heroes gets an audience’s adrenalin pumping, and gives them a sense of satisfaction when decency trumps corruption. Two films out on August 29 tackle classic good versus evil storylines: the Korean live action drama, Kundo, Age of the Rampant, and the Japanese anime, Road to Ninja, Naruto the Movie.
Both films, which are subtitled, feature gruesome fight scenes generational conflicts, and romantic overtures. But the similarities stop there. For one, Kundo takes place in the past, during the Joseon Dynasty of 1859, while Naruto is set in a fictional world that resembles feudal Japan—complete with Japanese villages with thatched-roof huts—but is also very modern with TVs and the latest, albeit ninja-inspired, fashions.
In Kundo, bad guy Jo Yoon (Gang Dong-Won) is born to a wealthy nobleman and his courtesan. Living in a brothel, he’s shunned by his father until dad realizes that he has no heir among his four “legitimate” daughters. Dragging 10-year-old Jo Yoon to his palatial estate, he begins grooming him for taking over the family’s fortunes. But Jo Yoon’s wicked stepmother isn’t thrilled with having her husband’s bastard child lurking. So, she exerts every effort to get pregnant and, at age 40, delivers a baby boy.
Nursing his psychopathic jealousy of his new stepbrother, Jo Yoon plots to restore his status in the family hierarchy only to be discovered attacking the child. Punished and relegated to persona non grata, he nonetheless masters swordsmanship—learning to leap over the heads of his opponents. Later, when his stepbrother is killed, Jo Yoon attempts to have his pregnant sister-in-law assassinated in order to remain his father’s sole heir.
Meanwhile, the country is plundered by powerful politicians and greedy businessmen who steal land from illiterate peasants by tricking them into signing away their rights. But a band of Robin Hood-like thieves named “Kundo,” led by a monk, swoops into the city and gives to the poor what they take from the rich.
When Jo Yoon demands that a lowly butcher, Dolmuchi (Ha Jung-Woo), find and execute his pregnant sister-in-law, Dolmuchi refuses, causing his family’s demise at the hands of Jo Yoon. Before long, Dolmuchi joins “Kundo,” twirling a pair of heavy meat cleavers to exact his revenge on Jo Yoon. But his clunky fighting style is no match for the elite swordsman with royal blood. Interestingly, the cleavers are sharp enough to chop through bamboo yet take an extraordinary amount of time slicing through the topknots Dolmuchi collects of enemy fighters.
At two hours and seventeen minutes, Kundo packs a lot of action. But the twangy American West cowboy music seems out of place. And, at some awkward intersections, the humor seems inappropriate for the brutality displayed onscreen.
As for Naruto, the good guys are two teenagers (Naruto and Sakura) battling a bad guy in the guise of a masked shinobi (ninja). Some time ago, the shinobi released a frightening Nine-Tailed Fox onto The Village Hidden in the Leaves, creating chaos and confusion. But Naruto’s parents bravely fought back, his father dying heroically and earning the right to have his face carved into a mountainside along with other courageous ninja leaders.
Naruto’s father, the Fourth Hokage, and his mother also sealed the Nine-Tailed Fox inside their newborn son. As an adolescent, Naruto wears several cat-like stripes or whiskers across his face as a reminder.
When a gang called the Akatsuki, who were killed by Naruto and his friends, return, they’re defeated again. As the triumphant teen warriors are cheered by the villagers, the masked shinobi appears and creates Genjutsu—the new world Naruto and Sakura must navigate to survive—and return to the real world. All the while, the shinobi attempts to steal the Nine-Tailed Fox sealed inside of Naruto along with everyone’s chakras. To complicate matters, he’s also after the Red Moon Scroll.
In the new world, everyone except Naruto and Sakura have had their personalities altered so they appear completely opposite of their normal selves. Further, Naruto’s parents are alive again and it’s Sakura’s parents who have died.
With some characters sporting jagged yellow or pink hair, and blue or green eyes, the film is an imaginative mix of Japanese traditions and modern fashion. Other intriguing figures include a clan head called Grandmother, in spite of her youthful looks, who issues orders from a high-rise office and whose secretary often holds a reposing piglet in her arms.
While the koto music at the end is soothing, other tracks seem misguided. And, like Kundo, the humor is sometimes inappropriate. For instance, when Naruto’s parents are dying and his mother expresses her final wishes, his father interjects that he has nothing to say since she said it all.
If you’re looking for some good versus evil action, both Kundo and Naruto won’t dissapoint.
‘Kundo, Age of the Rampant’ opens August 29 at AMC Loews Alderwood Mall 16, Lynwood and Starplex Cinemas Gateway 8, Federal Way.
‘Road to Ninja, Naruto the Movie’ opens August 29, Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 NE 50th St.