From South Korea comes “For The Emperor,” a dark, brooding, violent, gangster flick that tries hard but only achieves mediocrity.  Min-ki Lee plays a baseball player thrown out of the league for taking part in fixing games.  To make matters worse, what little money he made in his last fix was taken away by cops during a raid.  Not wanting to be homeless and starve to death, he agrees to work for the mob as a thug collecting debts.

Skinny as Lee is, he is a bad ass in a fight!  This guy stops knives with his hands, and doesn’t even yell out in pain!  He hits like a sledgehammer and can take a beating and still beat up multiple opponents who are bigger than he is!  How does he do it!  Does he practice martial arts while he was playing ball?  Is he a mutant?  Who the hell knows, because the movie never tells us.  Anyway, Lee rises up through the ranks of the credit card company — um, I mean the loan shark business; but his affair with a whore indebted to the mob and his desire for revenge against his bosses sets things in motion that will either give Lee all that he wants or have him buried where no one will ever find his body.

My most memorable, movie moment of “For The Emperor” is the scene when a low-level thug accidentally destroys a vase owned by the big boss.  Thug starts apologizing and promises to replace it, and the boss asks him if he has 500,000 on him — apparently, the vase is some ancient artifact.  D’oh!  And then the big boss starts making plans with the thug’s immediate boss to have the thug killed and his body buried.  Double d’oh!

I found “For The Emperor” somewhat entertaining; but one viewing is enough.  The story needed polishing to make it more believable; Min-ki Lee played a one-dimensional character (most of what he did was brood while his head was tilted downwards), resulting in a main character that the audience won’t and/or can’t relate to; and the director focused too much on style instead of substance.  The movie is sometimes a feast for the eyes, but the soul is left starved.

— M