It wasn’t just Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Korea circa the early 1860s had its own band of thieves with a yen for redistributing wealth, and it’s from the Chusul Clan’s nickname that Kundo: Age of the Rampant takes its title.
Yoon Jong-bin makes it easy for us to root for them as this band reads off the greedy elite’s lengthy list of crimes before summarily beheading them in front of a warmly receptive crowd. He introduces the Clan via stylized freeze-frame graphics that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tarantino movie: One is known as the Vicious Monk, while the rest go by their given names.
With its harmonica-heavy score and rousing shots of these horse-riding antiheroes, Kundo’s early and late scenes resemble a Western as much as the historical epic its middle section gradually turns into; considering how many of those films (A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven) were influenced by Japanese cinema, this makes for an interesting case of genre tropes shipping back and forth across the Pacific.
The decapitated heads impaled on sticks as a warning to enemies and the slow-mo Gatling gun action have survived the journey intact, but too few three-dimensional characters make it safely ashore — though one does score a memorable exit by telling a defeated foe to “attain [his] fucking Buddhahood” before literally riding into the sunset.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 27, 2014