Kundo: Age of the Rampant
군도: 민란의 시대 (Gundo: Millan-ui sidae)
South Korea, 2014, 137’, Korean
Directed by: Yoon Jong-bin
Script: Jeon Cheol-hong
Photography (color): Choi Chan-min
Editing: Kim Jae-beom, Kim Sang-beom
Art Direction: Park Il-hyun
Music: Jo Young-wook
Producers: Han Jae-deok, Yoon Jong-bin, Yu Jeong-hoon, Kang Hyun
Cast: Ha Jung-woo (Dolmuchi/Dochi), Gang Dong-won (Jo Yoon), Lee Gyeong-young (Ttaeng-choo), Lee Sung-min (Dae-ho), Cho Jin-woong (Lee Tae-ki), Ma Dong Seok (Tianbo), Yoon Ji-hye (Ma-hyang)
Date of First Release in Territory: July 23rd, 2014
The year is 1862. The Joseon Dynasty, having ruled for close to five centuries, has long passed the peak of its effectiveness. Government corruption and famine have driven the poorer classes to despair, while the rich live in decadent splendor. Unable to simply stand by and passively accept their fate, one group of peasants and farmers decide to raid the rich, stealing their food and redistributing it among those who need it most. The bandits, known as Kundo, end up forming their own community in the mountains, run on the principles of fairness and equal distribution.
As the film opens, a lowly butcher named Dolmuchi (Ha Jung-woo) is struggling on his own to support his mother and sister. He then receives a terrible offer from the aristocrat Jo Yoon: in return for committing murder, he will receive more money than he has ever seen in his life. In the end, Dolmuchi can’t go through with it, and Jo Yoon exacts a terrible revenge. But at the last moment, the bandits step in and save Dolmuchi’s life.
Kundo: Age of the Rampant is primarily centered around the slow-building but inevitable confrontation between Dolmuchi, who joins the bandits and starts a new life (even adopting a new name, Dochi), and the sinister Jo Yoon. The latter proves to be quite an interesting villain, in that the film devotes a considerable amount of time to his troubled backstory. Even though in the end we feel little sympathy for him, given his monstrous acts of cruelty, we do at least understand where he came from.
Kundo stands out a bit in Yoon Jong-bin’s filmography. Although he’s made films shot in the 1980s and 1990s, this is his only work set in the more distant past. The blockbuster scale of the project and its action set pieces are more traditionally genre-inflected than his other work (fans of the Western genre will spot much that is familiar in this movie). Yoon was also less directly involved in the writing of the screenplay, though it is based on his original idea.
That being said, Kundo: Age of the Rampant is unmistakably a Yoon Jong-bin project, from the way he assembles and guides such a marvelous cast to the way he presents society as a kind of system in which economic fundamentals and structures of power can often lead to violence. Highly entertaining, visually splendid and featuring both a refreshingly down-to-earth hero and unforgettable villain, Kundo has stood the test of time.
Yoon Jong-bin studied at Chung-Ang University, where he directed the low-budget The Unforgiven. Yoon’s first commercial feature Beastie Boys centered on male hosts in Seoul’s nightlife districts. In 2012, the Busan-set drama Nameless Gangster was a commercial breakthrough. He followed that up with Kundo: Age of the Rampant, a tale of bandits set in the Joseon Dynasty, and The Spy Gone North, which screened in Cannes’ Midnight Section and amassed 5 million admissions. Apart from directing, he has also produced the box office hits A Violent Prosecutor (2016), Money (2019) and The Closet (2020).
2005 – The Unforgiven
2008 – Beastie Boys
2012 – Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time
2014 – Kundo: Age of the Rampant
2018 – The Spy Gone North