The Childe (2023) Review
The Childe ( 귀공자) is the latest film from Korean writer/director Park Hoon-jung which means it comes with some pretty big expectations. Hoon-jung started his career as the writer of I Saw the Devil before going on to write and direct an impressive list of films including The New World, The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion, and The Witch: Part 2 – The Other One.
The Childe sees him stepping away from the telekinetic madness of The Witch and its sequel and returning to somewhat more realistic subject matter involving Marco (Kang Tae-Ju, Hello Me). Marco is a boxer, fighting in various illegal matches in Manilla and using the money to take care of his seriously ill mother. His situation is complicated by the fact he’s what is disparagingly referred to as a Kopino, half Korean, half Filipino, frequently the result of sex tourism.
He’s been trying to track down the father he never knew in hopes that he’ll help pay for the operation his mother needs. Despite his efforts, he’s found out nothing, so imagine his surprise when a lawyer representing his father comes looking for him.
As befits a film by Park Hoon-jung, The Childe opens with a bloody massacre orchestrated by a well dressed killer we’ll later learn goes by the name Nobleman (Kim Seon-Ho, Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, Catch the Ghost) and keeps things going with a boxing match at which we see Nobleman watching Marco fight.
There’s also a wild brawl arranged by a man (Justin John Harvey, Ashfall, The Witch: Part 2 – The Other One) who lost a lot of money betting against Marco that pits him against what looks like a dozen opponents. His escape from that brings him into contact with Yun-ju (Go Ara, Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea, Phantom Detective), a mysterious woman who will also turn up again.
If none of this makes a lot of sense to you, don’t worry it eventually will but Park Hoon-jung is in no rush to give things away. That doesn’t mean that you can’t figure out the basics of the plot if you pay attention, but the various characters and their real loyalties and motivations are a whole different matter. The film actually does its best at times to make things more confusing, such as a darkly amusing conversation between Marco and Nobleman on the flight to Korea.
I won’t give too much away but once Marco reaches his destination he finds himself in the middle of a bloody fight for control of an immense business empire. He’ll also find out that his father needs an operation as well, and he may be the key to its success. Which makes him valuable to all the different factions, though not necessarily in one piece.
If the first hour of The Childe is drama interspersed with action scenes, the second hour is almost nonstop action with the occasional break to update the plot. Foot chases, car chases, and shootouts all build towards a final jawdropper of a bloodbath at the family estate.
While the film’s focus is the action, the acting is also quite impressive. For only his second role Kang Tae-Ju is excellent as Marco, a man way out of his depth trying to stay alive in very hostile circumstances. Kang-woo Kim (Guimoon: The Lightless Door, The Vanished) is properly chilling as his psychotic half-brother Han and Go Ara is suitably mysterious and alluring as the femme fatale.
But it’s Kim Seon-Ho that really steals the show as the mysterious Nobleman. Between his action chops and his darkly humourous personality, he becomes the center of every scene he’s in and there’s actually an argument to be made that he, not Marco, is the film’s protagonist. It’s him that pushes the plot forward with his actions while Marco reacts and tries to survive.
I do wish more had been done with Marco’s Kopino heritage and the plight of similar children. Initially, it seemed like it was going to be a bigger factor in The Childe’s plot but then the script backs away from it. In the end, it’s mostly used as an excuse for characters in both countries to insult him.
For a film that runs two minutes shy of two hours, The Childe never drags. It’s a big, bloody action film of the kind we don’t get enough of and well worth seeing. The Childe opened in Korea on June 21st, Well Go USA will release it in select theaters in the US on June 30th. You can check their website for more information. And if that isn’t enough action for you, FilmTagger can suggest some further viewing.