For the Emperor Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Park Sung-Woong, Lee Min-ki, Lee Tae-Im
  • Director: Park Sang-Jun
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Korean
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: July 7, 2015
  • Run Time: 105 minutes



             Although For the Emperor is clearly a genre picture, built upon sequences of exciting action and hints of exploitation, the film’s narrative is a combination of several familiar structures. While none of the individual pieces are altogether original, together they make for a fast-paced and unpredictable viewing experience. One moment the film feels like a typical gangster film before slipping into noir territory, and eventually slides into a cat-and-mouse revenge story. Much of the mystery in the movie’s direction comes from the ambiguity found in the mostly silent protagonist, who almost seems modeled after the main character in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive.


            Though the substance of the plot leaves something to be desired, managing to feel both convoluted and derivative at the same time, the stylistic nature of the action shows promise in the directorial debut of Sang Jun Park. The film is adapted from a comic book, though it is primarily grounded in realism and a gritty story of loyalty and betrayal in the underworld of gambling and crime. Lee Hwan (Min-ki Lee) is a baseball player who is disgraced when he is caught taking money to help fix games, and has no option but to work for a gang boss named Sang-Ha (Sung Woong Park). Hwan works his way up the organization, making a name for himself within the gambling world thanks to a unique hands-on knowledge of the games. Along with the betting, Hwan also proves himself an asset in the more violent aspects of the job.


            Along with the particulars of the betting world, Hwan also works as a loan shark collecting the debts from those who lost. This violence extends even further against rival gangs, though it seems to have existed in Hwan all along. His silent persona and mysterious past seem to fuel his propensity towards brutality, which also helps propel him up the criminal underworld. Most of this action is gritty hand-to-hand fighting, with the occasional blade brought into the battle for the serious fights. This is where the film lives and breathes. While the relationships at the center of the film never develop well enough to inspire sympathy from the audience, all is forgiven when the fighting begins.


            The Blu-ray release offers a high definition presentation of the film’s more spectacular moments, along with a 5.1 HD surround sound to enhance the crashing, crunching and slashing of the fight scenes. I was also impressed with the film’s score/soundtrack, which fuels the film’s energy in a way that is also reminiscent of Drive. The one disappointment of the Blu-ray is a complete lack of extras.   


    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10

    Historical Significance:  5/10

    Special Features: 0/10

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