Sunday, January 4, 2015

Kundo: Age of the Rampant

I knew about Kundo from previews,  I had seen on Hulu back when it was first show in theaters in America. It looked like a solid action film but I did not get the chance to see it in the movies. While looking at various martial arts action films, I stumbled upon this on Netflix. 

Kundo is a South Korean martial arts film. The costumes and weapons are great but it feels a little long in the tooth. There are several characters but really only one main one, Dolchi, a former butcher who uses two massive clever style weapons.

Part of the problem is that the movie is too long clocking in over two hours time. In some movies that can be nothing and it can flash by in a minute. In this one, you keep waiting for the inevitable duel between Dolchi and Jo Yoon, his nemesis. 

I give Kundo, as an action film, three stars and its worth watching if you want to see all the different costumes and unique weapons.

For those who often wonder how to run a Oriental Adventurers game or Legend of the Five Rings, this would be a good 'introduction' film in that many of the issues the 'heroes', a group of bandits have with the legitimate rulers, are issues that could be common to almost any setting and almost any time period.

Here's a summary by Wiki: "it is about a power struggle between the unjust wealthy noblemen who run society and a group of righteous outlaws who steal from corrupt officials to give to the downtrodden and starving"  Is it about Robin Hood? Is it about some Solos and Net Runners in the future? It's an easy, almost too generic plot piece but it is a prime example of how people can sometimes get too involved in the 'culture' of a foreign land and forget about the basics.

In terms of gaming, it has several things going for it that make it more interesting than if you were only watching it for the action sequences.

1. Environment: One of my old favorite fight scenes is from Ninja Scroll. Our main hero, Jubei, is outfought by a blind swordsman but in a bamboo forest, the hero is able to use the forest to his advantage and claim victory.

In this movie, Jo Yoon is such a bad ass that he beats Dolchi easily several times. Even in the 'heroic' end game rematch, Jo Yoon holds the upper hand until Dolchi leads him into a bamboo forest that hinders his movements. The bamboo though, isn't brick or steel and it makes for a great sequence as they both slash through the trees and have to dodge the falling debris. 

Note that it appears that fighting in a bamboo forest is a bit of 'old school' itself for such action movies.  

2. Non-Player Character Motivation: I'm going to sound a little rambling here. Jo Yoon is the illegitimate son of a noble. He is taken out of his mother's house, a house of prostitution, and raised at home because the noble has no male heirs. Then the wife sees this and uses a variety of methods to become pregnant and gives birth to a male heir. Bad news for Jo Yoon in many ways.

First, his parents treat him as a second class citizen which causes him to act out, which causes the parents to discipline him even worse.

Then he decides, "Well, I know how to take care of this problem" and goes to suffocate his baby half brother. But when he starts to, he looks at his baby brother and realizes that he cannot do it. This could have been a turning point for him.

But he's caught by his mother-in-law and well, the punishment is sever including his birth mother killed and his personal valet crippled. These acts help explain why he's such a vile bastard and even still loyal to his own father.

His main motivation is to be the heir to the family, and it appears that when his half-brother is killed by the 'heroic bandits', that his time may have come. But the wife was pregnant. This leads to all sorts of things ranging from hiring a butcher to kill the wife, to destroying the village of the heroes, including slaughter of women and children.

At this point, Jo Yoon for some reason, brings home the rightful heir instead of just killing him. Bad idea as now his father sees the true heir and doesn't appoint Jo Yoon the position. Anyone remember the Russel Crowe movie Gladiator? Anyone remember the discussion on the Four Virtues and the claims that "I have other virtues." 

The son so wanting, so needing to be loved by his father, finally does the unthinkable and committed patricide. 

But when he turns to the child, again, Jo Yoon cannot find it in him to kill a baby. He's older now. More wicked now. More capable of even the foulest deeds. But for whatever reason, even when it puts his own life in danger, he protects the child. 

These elements make for great bits. They make Jo Yoon more 'complete' as a character if you will than the hero Dolchi who is essentially Batman looking for vengeance.

My own problem comes in in that we, the audience, known this. But no one else does. In a role playing game, the depth of the non-player characters isn't' known by the characters, or isn't accessible to the characters, say from friends of Jo Yoon, or from journals, or from some other sort of records like punishment records, then it doesn't exist anywhere but in the Game Master's Mind.

The greatest stories in the world that aren't known arent' great stories, they're not great motivations, and their not all the useful to the players.

They can cement the character for the Game Master though, and in that aspect at least, still have value.

Themes are often times universal. I've mentioned several Western films, and other forms of medium, like anime, that use the themes and scenarios painted in Kundo. When you're watching a wide variety of material, see what's cycling over and over again. See what works when it's used over and over again and pluck it out for your own use when you can.

Now I have to find another movie to kill some time! Anyone have any recommendations?