Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage Movie Poster Image
Violence and profanity abound in gritty Korean police drama.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 127 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 


Antagonist beats a character to death with a large mallet. Lead character beaten and tortured, including getting his hand beaten with a large mallet. Characters commit suicide, threaten suicide. Characters shot and killed. Teen girl breaks a beer bottle on her ex-boyfriend's head. Hanging dead body found. Body in a morgue shown covered in burns and blunt force trauma to head. Fighting with punches, kicks. Antagonist dangles teen girl over side of building, threatening to let go. 


Abortion doctor implies to lead character that he has sex with teen girls in exchange for providing them with abortions. He propositions the lead character, believing him to be a pimp. 


Constant profanity throughout. Nearly every expletive is used, including "motherf----r" and "f--k" used several times. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cigar and cigarette smoking. Beer drinking. Man found threatening to kill himself, surrounded by empty pill bottles and empty bottles of alcohol. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage is a 2019 Korean police drama in which a corrupt detective stumbles into a massive criminal conspiracy spearheaded by a large corporation. The profanity is abundant, with pretty much every expletive you can imagine used at some point, including regular use of "motherf----r" and "f--k." The movie is also filed with violence: gunshot deaths, fights with punches and kicks, beer bottles to the head, characters killed with large mallets to the head, broken bones, blood. Characters commit suicide. When the lead character finds two teen female antagonists in the office of a seedy abortion clinic, the abortion doctor, believing the lead character to be a pimp, offers to perform the abortion in exchange for sex with the girls. Dead bodies are shown -- one found hanging, another on the table of a morgue covered in burns and with blunt-force trauma to the head. The content, violence, and profanity make this a movie for older teens and adults only. 

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What's the story?

In JO PIL-HO: THE DAWNING RAGE, Jo Pil-ho (Sun-kyun Lee) is a corrupt homicide detective engaged in various seedy activities that line his pockets. While officers in Internal Affairs suspect that Jo is up to something, they haven't been able to pin anything on him just yet. With his money tied up in a suspect real estate deal, Jo sets up a heist of a police warehouse. But when the warehouse explodes while Jo and his cronies are in the middle of the break-in, Jo finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it turns out, those behind the explosion are trying to cover up a multimillion-dollar scandal involving the largest corporation in Korea. The only thing keeping Jo alive is that he's believed to be in possession of one of the two videos sent by Jo's crony, who died in the explosion while trying to rob the warehouse. The one person who actually has the video footage is the crony's girlfriend, who has already robbed Jo of money he had stashed in the crony's apartment. Now, Jo must find a way to prove that he had nothing to do with the explosion, keep the girl safe, somehow convince her to give him access to her phone and the footage, and reveal to the world the extent of the corruption being perpetrated by the CEO of the corporation behind this massive corruption. 

Is it any good?

This drama takes some interesting plot twists but ultimately doesn't make an impact. Part of it stems from an overreliance on profanity to create a sense of realism in the dialogue. Every expletive in the book is used. Furthermore, in a way that seems almost inevitable in movies such as these, the use of non sequiturs from the bad guys -- talk of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, for instance -- comes off as forced and trite. There are also one or two story threads too many, which is why Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage is at least 20 minutes longer than it needs to be. 

While there's something compelling to the lead character and his struggles with right vs. wrong (or perhaps kinda wrong vs. actually really wrong), this type of moral ambiguity has also been done to death in far too many action movies to name. The stylized grittiness often works, but when the movie gets lost in the various threads of the B, C, and D storylines, there are times when it feels like you're marking time until the next action sequence. The result is a bombastic action movie that is decent at times but overall leaves you with the impression that you've seen it all before. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about profanity in movies. How much is too much? Was the profanity in Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage necessary to realistically reflect how characters such as these communicate, or did it seem gratuitous? 

  • Did the violence seem necessary to the story, or did it seem like much of it was added to make the movie more entertaining?

  • How does this compare to other gritty "noir" movies you've seen? 

Movie details

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