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NO. 3

South Korea, 1997 (MIFF 1998, Sushi and a Switchblade)

Director: Song Neung-Han

Slip into a sharkskin suit, strap on a machete and join Taeju, Jophil and 'The Infamous Ashtray' (so named for his weapon of choice) as they shoot, slash, kick and punch their way to the top of the Korean gangland food-chain. Being 'No. 1' is all that matters and when you're 'No. 3', the only way is up. Song Neung-Han (writer of The Taebaek Mountains, MIFF 1995) charts the ascent of a group of ambitious thugs schooled in street violence in the early 90s, graduating to multi-million dollar fraud and extortion in 1998.

As hip and casually violent as a John Woo spectacular, No. 3 pulses wilh crazy angles, balletic knife and gunplay, streets glowing with neon prowled by immaculately dressed killers who respect only power, sex and wealth. As Taeju's small cadre prove themselves capable in the eyes of their gang boss - providing selfless protection, exacting ultraviolent revenge and turning over massive profits - our anti-hero begins to question the path he has chosen and begins ruminating on the simple pleasures of fatherhood and the straight life with his former-stripper girlfriend.

This is not to be. The whirlpool of violence allows no escape and as the gang's activities begin to draw the attentions of a hot-shot public prosecutor, they must take their schemes to a new level of corruption and brutality.

A full-tilt, non-stop cinematic ride, No. 3 boasts a straight razor sharp script, moments of berserk humour (explaining literature to the dim 'Ashtray': "Rimbaud, he's like the Al Capone of poets") and a spectacular visual style. Makes Tarantino yesterday's news.

Song Neung-Han commenced his career as a screenwriter for film and television drama. No. 3 (1997) is his directorial debut. In addition to lecturing, Song Neung-Han is currently at work on his next project.

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