Main cast: Sol Kyung-gu (Han Jae-ho), Im Si-wan (Jo Hyun-soo), Kim Hie-won (Go Byeong-gap), Jeon Hye-jin (Chun In-sook), Lee Kyoung-young (Go Byeong-cheol), Jang In-sub (Min-cheol), Kim Ji-hoon (Jung-sik), Choi Byung-mo (Captain Choi), Moon Ji-yoon (Young-geun), and Nam Gi-ae (Jung Kyung-Hee)
Director: Byun Sung-hyun
What’s this? A Korean crime drama with some pretty boy from a boyband in one of the lead roles? I don’t know why, but I have to look up Im Si-wan’s pictures online and feel like cowering under the sheets in terror. Still, critics rave about this one, so maybe I will watch the first five minutes before I go to bed… Well, the joke is on me. The movie is so captivating that when I do finally stagger into bed, it’s already 3.30 am. This freaking movie is two hours long, but I feel like I’ve been on a ride of a lifetime.
Captain Choi, ruthless and driven, wants to take down the crime syndicate boss Chairman Go, but her superiors decide that they are better off taking down criminals that can give them more publicity in the news. Never to let rules hold her back, she silently enlists new police recruit Jo Hyun-soo to go undercover for three years in prison, in order to befriend Han Jae-ho, Chairman Go’s most trusted and probably the most unpredictable main henchman. Actually, she doesn’t give Hyun-soo much of a chance to say no, by offering to pay for his mother’s dialysis and get the mother a donor’s kidney ASAP in exchange for his service.
As you can guess, Hyun-soo’s efforts work too well, and he is soon close to Jae-ho. So close, in fact, that when the bromance is momentarily disrupted by the unexpected death of Hyun-soo’s mother in a hit-and-run accident, Hyun-soo is so touched by Jae-ho’s show of kindness (the man pays for his mother’s funeral) that he admits to that man that he is an undercover cop. You’d think they will break up and maybe break a few bones in the process, but no, this revelation only brings them even closer, with the two even sabotaging Captain Choi’s efforts now and then just for laughs. Things can’t last, though, and the borderline loony assassin and the fresh-faced kid who has long lost his way will have to pay the piper soon.
Now, if I take a look at Bulhandang – or The Merciless – from an intellectual standpoint, I would say that it brings nothing new to the criminal bromance movie genre. Most of the major twists can be seen coming from a mile away, and the movie’s brand of hammy comedy doesn’t always gel well with the wanton violence and carnage permeating the rest of it.
But oh, what a thrilling ride of a movie this is! Sol Kyung-gu is gorgeous in a sexy “I’ll kill you and pee on your exposed spine!” way, and he has enough charisma to make his character the perfect, gorgeously wicked kind of antihero. Im Si-wan’s pretty boy appearance makes for a delicious kind of contrast when his character turns out to be almost as cruel and ruthless as Jae-ho. In many ways, this is a story of a kid who, after losing his moral compass, becomes increasingly under the thrall of the worst kind of father figure one can ask for. At the same time, Jae-ho is also mired deep in his efforts to gaslight and corrupt the talented boy into his side – he becomes so fond of the kid, in fact, that he unhesitatingly offers the kid a place by his side, as his partner, when he is free from prison to carve out his own crime empire.
The chemistry between the two male leads is such that this is practically a love story – cemented by how Jae-ho goes on a murderous rampage when he realizes that he has lost Hyun-soo and, because he blames those that he will kill for his loss, he will make them pay, pay, pay. Hyun-soo is willing to be a martyr and die at Jae-ho’s hands in order for that man to remain free. Both men have tears flowing free fall when they meet at the penultimate showdown, admitting that they have completely lost all perspective after their world has come crashing down around them… oh, the feels. Oh, the feels. I tell you, I later come across a video on YouTube by someone who has spliced together the bromance scenes over Ahn Ye Eun’s song Deep Blue and I get all choked up again.
There is no good or evil here, just all kinds of tumultuous feels that has me feeling all tingly and fuzzy in my cold heart. Sigh, is there anything sexier than two bloodied crazies gazing into one another’s tear-filled eyes as they choke out just how much they loathe and love the other person? Men are such beautiful, complicated things, especially those who look as gorgeous as Sol Kyung-gu in suit and tie, murdering people with ease and finesse. Bulhandang… beautiful.