Romantic Warriors (낭만자객, Yun Je-gyun: 2003)

A group of deadly assassins kidnap a hostage in the hope of getting a high ransom but when they manage to lose themselves in a forest and end up spending the night in a haunted house they manage to disrupt the plans of the ghosts to descend to heaven. The assassins hatch a plan to solve the problem but in doing so reveal themselves to be incompetent, so the ghosts decide to give them some training themselves…

Before he became known as ‘the director of Haeundae‘, Yun Je-gyun was primarily recognised as the director of very silly – but very popular – comedies. My Boss, My Hero (2001) successfully lampooned the the gangster genre with its back-to-school humour and was a hit at the domestic box-office and was remade as a television series in Japan, while Sex Is Zero (2002) delivered the American Pie-style gross-out sex-comedy to audiences who lapped it up as critics looked on dumb-founded. With two hit films in as many years, Yun aimed for a third with Romantic Warriors (also known as Crazy Assassins) – a period action comedy with humour even grosser than anything Yun had delivered before…

The ‘period comedy’ is not the rarest type of film but is still one that can often be seen to wrestle with the necessary budgets required to deliver the requisite costumes and sets. Romantic Warriors – set in the Joseon Dynasty – appears to have none of these problems and while far from ‘big’ budget is still a fairly lavish affair. Director and Writer Yun Je-gyun certainly knows how to dress a production – still, if you’re going to put together a bunch of cheap gags and some inappropriate humour then you might as well make it look good. The effort is, however, very much appreciated as this – along with some nicely stylised cinematography from Kim Yung-chul and sharp editing Kim Sun-min (both of whom worked on Sex Is Zero) – ensures that from the outset Romantic Warriors is always visually interesting. Then the dick jokes begin…

For a film that deals in the crudest of humour, Romantic Warriors is, on occasion, quite inventive. A nightclub where the smoke and lights are created by slaves hiding behind the scenes is just one example of the inspired lunacy – but as most of its ideas are used for standalone scenes for long stretches it often simply resembles a series of sketches. Luckily it’s easy to get pulled into the humour: fart gags, intentionally bad fight scenes, foul-mouthed female ghosts, and a swordsman whose special move is to throw off the inner balance of his opponent by dropping his sword, pulling faces and tweaking his nipples are part of the fun to be had. If this sounds too much then Romantic Warriors isn’t for you because those descriptions do not do justice to the childishness on show – and that’s before mentioning the nose-picking and the sunbathing ghosts. Yun Je-gyun takes every (every!) opportunity to lampoon his characters and period setting and is sure to throw in references to other period films at every opportunity. A game cast make the most of his mixed script: plenty of comic moments are delivered with the kind of timing that catches you off of your guard and laughing before you’ve registered just how poor the actual gag was. Plenty of the Sex Is Zero cast have been bought back on-screen by Yun, suggesting that he’s trying to capture lightening twice, and while Choi Sung-kook is on good form as the leader of the would-be-dangerous assassins and Jin Jae-young has fun as a ghost with great fighting skills, it’s Shin Ee who steals the show as the loud and easily angered leader of the four ghosts trying to make their way to heaven through any means necessary .

Unfortunately, despite the energetic delivery of wave after wave of silly gags, the lack of direction does begin to catch up after a while. With nothing to distinctly propel a plot, around the hour mark (which isn’t bad going) the jokes wear thin and scenes begin to feel repetitive as Yun struggles to reign things in for a suitable finale. This is also underlined with an unusually cruel scene which aims to inject some melodrama into proceedings in order to bring events to a head. Rather than pushing the film onto an emotional level the move feels ill-judged and unfortunately Romantic Warriors never really recovers from this point on and it limps onto its conclusion as it struggles to find its tone again. Although Yun has the sense to keep the running time under the usual two hours, by the time the final credits roll Romantic Warriors has already stretched the joke way too far.

낭만자객 (Romantic Warriors)
Directed by Yun Je-gyun
Produced by Her Tae-gu, Joun JK
Written by Joun JK
Starring Choi Sung-kook, Jin Jae-young, Shin Ee, Hwang Sin-jeong

Romantic Warriors Image © Doosaboo Films