Geochilmaru: The Showdown (거칠마루, Kim Jin-seong: 2005)

A group of martial artists are assembled through an internet forum to attend a fighting competition. The organiser is a mysterious figure called Geochilmaru and each of the fighters are told that if they win the competition – by beating each other in fights on a secluded mountain – then they will meet their secretive host…

Low budget martial arts movies love to use the ‘tournament’ format as a way to justify as much on-screen action as possible, with minimum reliance on plot, acting and locations as possible. It’s this format that Geochilmaru: The Showdown sticks to as tightly as possible, and given the limitations of the production it’s one that on occasion works pretty well.

While the low budget is evident from the outset – evident in the odd moment of particularly poor camera work and its ‘verging on annoying’ cheap soundtrack – and may put some off, it does mean that Geochilmaru has a few rough edges to it which work in it’s favour with regards to the tone. It’s ‘rough and ready’ feel is suitably fitting with it’s subject matter, even if the tone never really quite settles properly. Is it a brain dead actioner, or a thoughtful ‘martial arts’ flick? It never can quite decide. However, with a bare-bones plot that has only an unfunny subplot involving a ‘hilariously’ bumbling policeman to distract from the main show, there’s little time for timewasting – once the whole thing is set-up, it’s on with the action stuff.

So, Geochilmaru being the tournament movie that it is, you would be expecting the action to be top-notch then? Well, it’s certainly a mixed bag. While the range of fighting styles – which include Taekwondo, Hapkido, Kung-fu, Boxing, Judo, Karate, Muay Thai and Wushu – is impressive on paper, these aren’t necessarily given justice by the abilities of the martial artists onscreen . A cast of (to my eye) unknown actors kick, punch, shout, roll, and jump across the screen and at each other with a mixture of success. If the first third of the film shows us that this is no group of thespians on show, then the rest of the film shows that only about half of them have some decent martial arts abilities. Maybe the rest of them were just there to make up the numbers. At least some poor action is (mostly) better than watching poor acting, but when you’re starting to take your pick of the negatives you know you’ve got a film in trouble. Okay, so it’s not the worst example of this type of film, but don’t approach it expecting it to kick into a higher gear – it doesn’t. So while sadly, there’s no standout action scenes in Geochilmaru , one thing that does make the action feel just a little different is that it consists largely of ‘brawling’ fights – which at least adds a certain level of realism to proceedings. This in itself is at least a refreshing change from some of the more stylised action typical of martial arts movies (think of Hong Kong action, or The City of Violence (Ryoo Seung-wan / 2006)). Still, there’s nothing to get too excited about, it won’t have you reaching for the remote control to rewind a fight scene.

One thing that Geochilmaru does try to inject into proceedings is some thoughtfulness. Fighting is reflected on and the styles are shown to have at least some key ideas and philosophies behind them. There’s not a whole lot of it, but when Geochilmaru attempts to become reflective it is at its best – and it makes some of those shaky fight scenes more forgiveable. It’s just a shame then that these moments feel like gestures and the filmmakers aren’t willing to commit to it fully.

To cut to the chase, Geochilmaru is pretty much instantly forgettable and even it’s short eighty five minutes running time will test the patience of almost anyone but the most ardent fan of low budget martial arts flicks, but the type of film that it aspires to be – a kick-ass marital arts tournament flick – is pretty rare in Korean cinema. This fact alone might mean that it’s given a bigger benefit of the doubt than usual – but not too much, it’s few interesting moments barely raise it to an ‘average’ level.

거칠마루 (Geochilmaru: The Showdown)
Directed by Kim Jin-sung
Produced by Kim Jin-sung
Written by Byeon Won-mi, Kim Jin-sung
Starring Kwon Min-gi, Kim Jin-myeong, Seong Hong-il, O Mi-jeong, Yu Yang-rae

Geochilmaru: The Showdown Image © MONGMARU & SPONGE