No Mercy (2019) [Fantasia Festival 2019]

The path to redemption is a long and arduous one that can obviously test us and our resolve to the very core. With the South Korean “No Mercy” we see the unfolding of a path of redemption for a woman who has very little in life and is about to see her only good thing be taken away by human cruelty. A mix of “Taken,” “Drive,” and “Dead Man’s Shoes,” Lim Kyoung-tack’s action thriller is a beautifully made, engrossing, and often riveting journey of a woman who is willing to go deep in to the darkness to retriever her sister, and might not have a way back once she’s fulfilled her goal.

After serving a long prison sentence, Inae (Lee Si-young) returns home to her enthusiastic younger sister Eunhye (Park Se-wan). For Inae, a former martial arts champion, her little sister is precious, and because Eunhye has an intellectual disability and so is extremely vulnerable, Inae always sworn to protect her. When Eunhye vanishes suddenly, Inae alerts her school and the police, and is confronted with total indifference.  She quickly realizes that she will have to take things into her own hands. By way of rough, tough interrogation, Inae discovers that a group of schoolgirls who bullied her sister have forced her into an awful situation involving petty criminals, pawnbrokers, pimps and more. Desperate to rescue her sister, Inae will show little mercy to Eunhye’s abusers.

Lee Si-young’s turn as Inae is fantastic and she manages to bear the weight of “No Mercy” both in the dramatic and action corner. Through and through Inae is a flawed anti-hero who is only seeking peace and quiet with her little sister. Once we realize that Eunhye is being preyed upon by truly evil people, and might not have a means of escaping, the tension rises for Inae, whose trek for her sister becomes ever more deadly. Lee Si-young leads the film so well, providing a lot of dimension and emotion toward the character’s violent campaign to find her sister.

Director tack is very good with balancing action and dramatic material, and once Inae begins knocking heads to get answers, it amounts to some violent, but absolutely compelling fight scenes (Si-young in a red dress dragging a sledgehammer promises to become an iconic moment in action cinema). Director tack unfolds the fight scenes in very tight and cramped quarters allowing Inae to get the leg up time and time again. She’s smooth with her self defense, but always seems on the verge of being murdered any moment thanks to the endless filthy criminal element she confronts. We also get a heavy glimpse in to the victimization of Eunhye (Park Se-wan is superb) and how she becomes fodder for predators that seek to use her for everything she’s worth.

It almost immediately becomes a much more pressing matter for Inae who is unknowingly racing against the clock. Despite the dramatic moments and heartfelt instances of exposition, “No Mercy” works at a brisk pace, always focusing on a forward motion narrative that keeps Inae on her toes and absolutely restless in her resolve to find her sister. Lim Kyoung-tack delivers as “No Mercy” is a top notch action thriller, and one that kept me on the emotional edge from minute one. I hope more movie fans get to experience it very soon. 

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st 2019.