Set in post-war South Korea, this film follows one family as they struggle to survive in a poverty-stricken environment. Whilst Cheolho (Kim Jin-kyu) tries to make an honest living in his job as a secretary and save money by avoiding treatment for a toothache, his war veteran younger brother Yeongho (Choi Moo-ryong) prefers to spend his time drinking in bars. However, their impoverished circumstances result in both brothers being pushed to their limits.
The film was banned by the South Korean government due to its depiction of poverty in the country and director Yoo provides a surprisingly realistic and uncompromising look at the effects of the Korean War on its main characters.
Yeongho and his former army comrades struggle with gaining employment and a latter subplot involves him reuniting with a female veteran who he met during the war who is wrestling with her own issues. The brothers’ mother is shown as a PTSD-afflicted wreck as the result of narrowly escaping a bombing raid who constantly repeats the phrase ‘Let’s get out of here!’ – which later resurfaces as part of the film’s tragic conclusion. The most shocking element, at least for a South Korean film from this era, is the fate of Cheolho and Yeongho’s sister Myeongsuk (Seo Ae-ja), who is reduced to working as a prostitute for American soldiers in order to make a living.
All of these narrative threads effectively build up to a conclusion that not only pits both brothers against each other, but also results in both of them suffering as a result of their environment.
Yeongho’s downfall is predictably bleak, with his failed attempt at finding work earlier in the film leading to him embarking on an armed robbery that sees him running from the law. However, it is Cheolho who suffers the most, as his attempts at holding the family together fall apart as he goes for urgent dental surgery.
As a result, Aimless Bullet works as a realistically powerful depiction of the issues affecting South Korean society in the immediate post-war era that deserves to be rediscovered by Western audiences, particularly during this current period where South Korean cinema is flourishing artistically and commercially.