Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
A brutal Korean revenge film?  Sure, sign me up for some of that action.  I mean this is a genre that the South Koreans arguably handle better than just about anybody making movies today, if I may generalize a bit… but not so fast my friends.  Yes, 'Broken' is about a man looking to avenge a terrible wrong, but this one is a little different.   More a character study on the mishandling of grief and self-punishment than just raw, violent retribution, but still about as good as we expected it to be.

Sang Hyeon (Jae-young Jung) is a hard working factory worker, living a fairly average life with his prototypical teenage daughter Su Jin (Soo-bin Lee), whom he probably doesn't pay enough attention to.  He loves his baby girl dearly, and he only works so hard to provide her a better life as his wife has been out of the picture for a while now, but at that age kids don't necessarily understand that you are doing all of this stuff for them, and only recognize that you aren't there.

One day Sang Hyeon comes home from work, late as usual, and Su Jin isn't there.  Odd, but he's not too terribly worried.  The next day, still not there.  He calls her phone but gets no answer, and he is getting a little a worried, but it's off to work he goes.  Then the police officer, Eok gwan Jang (Sung-min Lee) retrieves him from work to identify the body.  It's not easy to watch, but sadly… it's Su-jin, raped and murdered, lying on a cold slab in a morgue. 

At this point and time Sang Hyeon's life is all but over.  Now he just hangs out at the police station hoping that they can find out who did this and bring these animals to justice.  Then Sang Hyeon gets a mysterious text originating from his daughters missing phone, a text informing him who did this crime and where this person lives.  Please recognize that Sang Hyeon is no badass.  He's not a retired special forces agent, or ex-cop, just a bereaved father looking for justice.  The text he got was very accurate, he shows up at the residence of one of the culprits, this teenaged boy is definitely one of the ones responsible for death of his daughter, and vigilante justice is served in a very decisive way.
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Still, there's one more boy out there though who needs to be brought to justice, and this is the bulk of the movie as Sang Hyeon travels all over South Korea, with random text messages guiding his way.  It is the dead of winter, and his travels will take him through some very rough and snowy terrain, with the police on his trail because he's leaving bodies behind him, as he tries to find this last boy and end his life.  Not a lot of people want anything more than Sang Hyeon wanting this boy dead.

There are lot of very strong elements in director Lee Jung Ho's film 'Broken', adapted from the Japanese novel 'The Hovering Blade' which apparently was also turned into a movie, in Japan, a few years ago.  The strongest of these elements would easily be the performance put forth by Jae-young Jung as the devastated father Sang-hyeon.  He has given us this character who is grieving, and this we can understand considering he has just lost his only child, but Sang-hyeon is actually experiencing something far beyond grief.  This is a man who is in agony.  He is literally torturing himself and it becomes pretty clear, not too deep into this film, that there is no level of retribution that's going to be able to free him from this pain.  Part of this agony this character is experiencing is because he didn't 'see' his daughter.  He loved her, but he didn't pay nearly enough attention to her, and in a way he blames himself for her death, almost as much as he blames those awful boys who pulled her off the street and raped her.  Some of this is explicitly stated in the narrative, but most of it inferred through the face and actions of the actor Jung, who truly gave an amazing performance in this film.  The vast majority of the performances were rock solid in this film, Sung-min Lee as the hardcore, but conflicted cop chasing down Sang-hyeon, young Soo-bin Lee who was heart breaking as the murdered daughter, and of note Jun-young Seo as the rookie cop who thinks these people are getting what they deserve.

Probably a little beyond me, since I don't live in South Korea… or rather I don't live there anymore, went to high school there, but that's another story… is the statement that Korean youth seems to be completely out of control.  If I were to take what I learned from 'Broken' as the gospel truth, I'd have no choice but to assume that a very large number of Korean teenage boys are raping, abusing, drug taking, completely insensitive, remorseless little bastards who actually need to beaten to death with baseball bats.  And the poor girls who are the victims of this awful behavior will either just accept it, or kill themselves afterwards, or make it work for them in the form of prostitutes, or succumb to the Stockholm syndrome and fall these abusers, or in the poor case of the one nice kid we saw, that being Su-jin… just get murdered.  It's pretty nihilistic and certainly doesn't fill one with a lot of hope for the future.

But still, it is all so very well done.  'Broken', not surprisingly isn't an awful lot of fun to sit through, and it is far more drama than it is thriller, but it is an excellent portrayal of one man's singular inability to deal with his grief.
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