Kang-ho (played by Lee Jung-jin) and Poong-ho (played by Lee Joo-seung) are brothers who have always fought. Not in the general normal way brothers fight, but in actual straight-up fistfights. Kang-ho has usefully parlayed this skill into becoming an action movie detective, which is like a regular detective except they get into a lot more massive Hong Kong style action sequences. Through the mysterious disappearance of an Indonesian immigrant, the brothers run across Jae-hee (played by Oh Ji-ho), a wealthy businessman who beats people into disability and/or death mostly just for the fun of it.
The social commentary in "Duel: Final Round" is even more telegraphed than the action sequences. The villain is literally a psychopathic rich guy who brutalizes people from lower economic classes, with the only saving grace being that these fights are entered into by mutual agreement. "Duel: Final Round" is among the sillier slams against the 1%, although really, the heroes in these kinds of martial arts narratives always end up fighting wealthy guys because they're the ones with all the power.
But really, who cares about moral messaging when you have crazy beautiful fight scenes? Director Shin Jai-ho does excellent work putting together choreographic fights where manly men hit each other for awhile until someone finally gets in the death blow. Yet he also shows skill in the milleu of slapstick martial arts- think less Bruce Lee and more Jackie Chan, where more than anything else the battles just look marvelously silly, as we wait for the next punch to land somewhere embarrassing.
Elder Hwang (played by Shin Jung-geun) perectly encapsulates this in his role as Poong-ho's mentor, where in addition to the usual training montages, he must instruct Poong-ho in the art of...drinking lots of hard liquor at once. Incidentally, the eternally baby-faced Lee Soo-jeung is excellently cast in this role. He resembles neither a drunkhard nor a martial arts master, and yet somehow he is the fairly convincing protagonist in a movie where almost all of the strengths lies in fight scenes.
The weaknesses, well, that's pretty much anything else. While there's a decently larger crew of supporting characters beyond the main four, I had trouble keeping track of who they were and why they important. One of them just investigates Jae-hee in the background, since obviously simply defeating Jae-hee in a fistfight isn't really enough to actually bring him to justice. Actual evidence is needed for that in a society that has any sort of respect for law, and "Duel: Final Round" does have to adhere to some basic level of realism.
It's lucky, then, that "Duel: Final Round" is exactly the kind of low-brow movie where this doesn't matter. Does anyone remember the actual plot of a good martial arts movie, or do we just remember the glorious fight scenes? The sucker punches, the ominous lighting, the cheesy one-liners, the arrogant grins, and most of all, the jokes which make it clear everyone involved knows the movie is inherently silly, those are all here. Because who cares about story logic when martial arts are just that awesome?
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Duel: Final Round""
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