Han-gi (Jae-hyeon Jo) is a pimp. He doesn’t look like a very friendly guy and it’s not surprising that, early in Kim Ki-Duk’s Bad Guy, when he sits down by and begins to study the face of Sun-hwa intently, she springs up and flees from him. An argument and then a fight ensue after Han-gi forcefully kisses Sun-hwa and she then orders him to apologize. It is difficult to imagine what Han-gi thinks about Sun-hwa when she spits on his face after a group of soldiers rough him up. What makes it so difficult to imagine is that he just sort of keeps staring at her. He’ll do a lot of that, though.
As what could be a type of revenge, Han-gi and his henchmen, Jung-tae (Yun-tae Kim) and Myung-su (Duek-mun Choi), frame her for a crime against the very wrong guy. This, of course, results in virgin Sun-hwa having to prostitute herself under the watchful eye of madam Eun-hye (Jung-young Kim).
Concealed behind a two-way mirror, Han-gi dutifully watches as Sun-hwa is first broken in and then as she gradually grows accustomed to her new lifestyle. All the while, her vitriol for Han-gi is palpable. But, aside from her torturous defilement and his vigil, these two don’t have a lot more story.
The rest of the film’s run-time is used to show Han-gi disciplining Jung-tae and Myung-su. It’s not entirely clear to me what makes Han-gi their leader, but, I think that if having one’s throat cut and being stabbed the greatest number of times—and some really creative ways—qualifies one for the upper rungs of pimpdom, Han-gi has an edge on almost anyone I’ve ever seen.
The film, as a whole, is probably about a type of person like Han-gi who can really only express himself through violence. (He certainly can’t do it through language.) Ki-Duk’s film is brutal, but is told with a poetic aesthetic that gave me more interest in the material. Bad Guy isn’t such a bad movie if a person happens to be in the mood for a love story with a lot of violent shankings.