, 13 Oct 2008
There was a period of about five years recently where South Korean filmmakers appeared unable to put a foot wrong, a new wave of talent both in front of and behind the camera produced a tidal wave of stunning cinema. It appears to have tapered off somewhat recently, with expensive projects like Typhoon and Dragon Wars, bred as crossover films for the western market, doing deserved box office belly flops outside their homeland.
The Chaser doesnt look as expensive as those films, but it feels very much like its been made with crossover potential in mind (indeed its had some sort of success there as Leonardo DiCaprio has expressed interest in remaking the film) but while The Chaser has truly thrilling and truly frightening moments its potential is unmatched by its achievement because of a the disastrous mess that is the tone of the film.
The plot is simple. Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok), a pimp who used to be a cop, unwittingly sends Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee); one of his girls to an appointment with serial killer Young-min (Ha Jung-woo). Thinking Mi-jin has been kidnapped by someone who intends to sell her Joong-ho sets out to find his employee.
To say too much more regarding the plot would spoil what is, to its credit, an often surprising film. The Chaser is, for its first half, an excellent, fast paced and creepy thriller. The growing sense of doom of the scene when Mi-jin enters Young-mins house, and the unbelievably nasty things in store there is a real highlight. Its a nail bitingly tense sequence. On the other side of the door there is a pursuit going on that were effortlessly involved in, because the film is obeying Hitchcocks first law of suspense and letting us know more than any of the characters. Then the police get involved, and it all falls apart. Quickly.
Its here that the problem with the tone rears its head. For 45 minutes weve been watching a tense, gritty thriller, but when the police enter into the film much of it descends, to my astonishment intentionally, into farce. These are the most inept cops this side of Police Academy, and the most corrupt this side of Serpico. I dont know if this is writer/director Na Jong-hins attempt at social commentary (and if it is it falls flat on its arse) or if he just decided to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the screen and see what stuck.
In the second half other problems arise; chasmic gaps open up in the films logic, and the juxtaposition of the farce and the thrills mean that neither works. Theres a few agreeably nasty moments, including one shockingly brutal twist, but its sad to see a film that started out promising such a lot careen downhill at such a rate.
The actors arent to blame, both Kim (giving one of the more difficult anti-heroes of recent years real humanity) and Seo (scarily and realistically unhinged and manipulative as the killer) are excellent, and they have almost all of the heavy lifting to do. This, though, is one time Im not at all opposed to the idea of a remake. Trim the fat, keep the tone consistent and youd have something really special. As it is The Chaser is just about worth chasing down for an outstanding first half, but you may wish to run away from the second.
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