The Shameless

A homicide detective tries to flush out a mob enforcer by befriending the suspect's beautiful girlfriend, but soon develops romantic feelings for her.


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  • ★★★★½ review by Mr_Vengeance on Letterboxd

    I went into this film, excited, but not really knowing what to expect. I had heard some great things from one of my friends in Korea, who is a critic himself, so he had me sold on it, but even then, his details and praise were pretty vague. All I know is that Jeon Do-yeon is my favorite actress, and so naturally, I am always down to see whatever film she stars in next. This fanboy loyalty (I worded that weird) led me to one of my favorite Korean films I've had the pleasure of seeing in quite some time.

    A modern noir, complete with awesome atmosphere and great dialogue, The Shameless is a gigantic web of bad people out to get each other, on both sides of the law. I really can't think of a way to sell this one, as I really don't want to spoil anything, but an undercover cop falls in love with the mistress of a man he is trying to bust, and things get very interesting, and oh so intense, and I loved it every minute of the way.

    The acting in this film is spot on, from the leads all the way down to the most minute characters that may only appear in a scene or two. Everyone was cast perfectly. Jeon Do-yeon uses her typical balance of frailty and power to perfection. There is a lot of depth to both her character and the lead man, played by Kim Nam-gil, who I actually haven't seen in anything really, but knowing who he is, can say just chopping his hair off and losing his signature mustache, gave him enough of an unusual appearance for him, that he appeared to really get lost into character. Maybe a useless observation, but I believe it to be true.

    Like most good Korean flicks, well depending on the genre of course, there are plenty of good twists and turns along the way, and seeing the characters' all slowly reveal their true nature throughout is great, though there is a lot of dark and disgusting people in this, but I digress. There isn't really anyone to route for, but everyone is so broken and interesting, you can't help but want to see what happens next.

    Though there is essentially no action in the entirety of the movie, there is one throw down between the lead detective and the guy he is out to get, early on, and it is brilliantly staged and executed and felt it was worth praising. Every punch and slam down (on the good old concrete by a row of parked cars) is felt and I was so impressed that I revisited that scene numerous times after the film was over. A brief moment that leaves quite the impression on the viewer.

    Sadly, The Shameless is going to be one of those films that not too many people outside of Korea will see, and that is a shame. It's a great character piece, has absolutely excellent cinematography and atmosphere, an interesting score (that works), and is topped off by powerhouse performances by everyone. Essentially, I can't really find anything to complain about this film. I don't think it's absolutely perfect, but it's very close. This one needs to be seen by fans of Korean cinema.

  • ★★★½ review by Invincible Asia on Letterboxd

    A nice noir thriller/drama mixture about an investigator who falls for Jeon Do-yeon's femme fatale/not so femme fatale.

    The story itself isn't as original as one might hope which the premise might just have given away, but Do-yeon brings in another of those superb performances of which she has delivered about half a dozen by now and the score makes proceedings a delight with it's mix of mysterious woodwinds and tragic cello playing.

    Ambiguous, mysterious, a tad too long yet superbly acted, definitely worth a watch.

  • ★★★½ review by Jianne Soriano on Letterboxd

    My god. This film left me drooling for Kim Nam Gil. I'm suffering from a Kim Nam Gil hangover. I have been scared by Kim Nam Gil.

    Lee Byung Hun's character in A Bittersweet Life falls in love with his boss' lover. I think its time to move over. I'm totally in it for Kim Nam Gil, a detective falling for a criminal's lover, the one he's supposed to arrest in The Shameless. Described as a romantic noir film, the film is undoubtedly slow. But this slowness works. Because this slowness makes you hungry. This slowness taunts you. It teases you. It tells you "oh my God, Kim Nam Gil." (Okay, it won't tell you that but it told me that.)

    I'd say I'm sort-of glad that Kim Nam Gil replaced Lee Jung Jae for the film because Kim just has this mysteriousness, charismatic side yet reserved to him. Lee, to me, (and I've seen his other films) doesn't carry that much. (Watch The Housmaid if you want to see Lee and Jeon Do Yeon together).

    Despite Jeon being Kim's noona in real life—the chemistry is undeniable. Jeon, whose films are mature and sexy definitely showed that here yet she has this fierceness to her. She plays a semi-femme fatale wonderfully. Honestly, she doesn't even have to try too hard. She's a great actress (and Cannes Best Actress winner for Secret Sunshine.) So as much as I love Kim Nam Gil (and fell hard for him), it's undeniable that Jeon is the real star here.

    She delivered the ending blow.

    But it's an ending that left my eyes rolling.

    Other than that, the film suffers from vague character motivation. Is Jeon really doing it out of love of ego-acceptance? Is Kim's "attraction" genuine or out of loneliness? With an ending like that, it's pessimistic. We cannot find love in a hopeless place, I guess.

  • ★★★½ review by Cameron Wayne Johnson on Letterboxd

    "Well, I'm shameless when it comes to loving you; I'd do anything you want me to [even if it meant compromising a murder investigation, or getting killed by a mob enforcer]!" Indeed, this exercise in shameless love is not quite as lively as a Billy Joel song, or even as lively as an episode of "Shameless". That is some top-notch black comedy, but there ain't no comedy to this black topic, even though the story of an undercover relationship turning romantic is so clichéd that it is kind of laughable. The only thing more familiar is Park Sung-woong playing a suspected murderer, but instead of being your garden-variety serial killer like he just was in "The Deal", he is a former mob enforcer here. The lead goes undercover in hopes of tracking down this fleeing murderer through a connection with his girlfriend, though it's probably not long before the lead, for a lot of reasons, hopes that the killer never comes back. If the investigating officer isn't already shameless for falling in love with this guy's girlfriend, then he's not likely to have any shame to cover by the end of this affair. Well, this does actually sound like the sort of morbidly wacky misadventure that Frank Gallagher would get into, but it ought to be taken very seriously, at least when it takes itself so.

    The film is not that far out there, at least thanks to its grounded presentation, but few extremes in seriousness and edge can entirely hinder circumstances' gradually escalating from slightly cinematic to outright melodramatic. It is kind of downhill from the incorporation of the romance that doesn't necessarily stunt the overall quality of the film, but it's frustrating that the story would so dramatically expend its deft naturalism and creative inspiration to superficialize its story with generic histrionics. It's bad enough that the development of the leads is loose, and that the supporting characterization very slight, thus hamstringing the integrity of a plot that is largely driven by contemplative investigations and procedurals. Besides that, there are long stretches of minimalist action that endeavor, often fruitfully, to build atmosphere, while restraining plot dynamics all the more. The film is repetitive, and as it gets a little more infrequent with substance that is rich enough to resonate, the ponderous pacing and plump atmosphere get a little bit more stale. Dull spells are by no means uncommon, and for many, that could prove to be the last nail in a coffin enforced by histrionic touch-ups and a questionably rounded formula. As for myself, I found more than enough worth investing in, especially in terms of artistry.

    Arguably as strong as any aspect of this film is Jo Yeong-wook's absolutely fantastic score, whose meticulous electronic ambience, noirish brood, elegant classicism, surprising European flavors, and many other complex layers are so masterfully refined as to stand out by their own musical right, and make so many sequences enchanting in their flawless toning. The soundtrack is very hard to rival with the aesthetic value, but cinematographer Kang Guk-hyun certainly knows what he's doing, his gritty and technically sleek paletting absorbing the brood of highly modernist settings, and sometimes proving lyrical in how it enhances the grace of certain visuals with deft imagination. It's a very neo-noirish aesthetic, and Oh Seung-uk's direction manages it most tastefully and gracefully, its contemplation being mostly sleek and raw, precise with how it draws upon the essence of style and substance through deliberate craftsmanship. Again, it gets a little bit dull when there is hardly anything for Oh to meditate upon, but intrigue is practically guaranteed with an investigative and undercover procedural that takes often unpredictable and striking, if typically melodramatic turns. Oh's script mostly does a fine job of reinforcing the substance's value with sharply clever dialogue that livens things up, while thorough plotting unravels the practical and dramatic complexities of the lead's investigative scheming intricately and engrossingly. Though the characterization is by no means as dimensional, each role is distinguished, and the gifted performers - especially Kim Nam-gil and Jeon Do-yeon - are strong and well-matched enough to solidify the human factor that, in turn, solidify the engagement value of this sometimes difficult noir. It's not always decidedly inspired, nor is it always immediately engaging, but there is enough integrity on most all fronts for the final product to be a predominantly involving, gracefully executed drama.

    Trite melodrama devalues a simple story about as much as somewhat frail characterization, which makes the slight pacing and contemplative directing often dull, but the fantastic score, noirish cinematography, precise direction, sophisticated writing and impeccable acting are rich and intriguing enough to make Oh Seung-uk's "The Shameless" a generally absorbing and sharp, romantically-charged piece of neo-noir.

    3.5/5 - Good

  • ★★★★ review by sinemaslave on Letterboxd

    Well made in the noir tradition however Mrs. Jeon steals this film .

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