In true brutal Korean action-thriller mode (think Old Boy) virgin director Na Hong-Jin’s The Chaser is at once thoughtful storytelling and as visceral as they come. To be sure, this is not a movie for the faint of stomach!
Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-suk), a not particularly likeable pimp, is in trouble. Several of his girls have gone missing and Kim Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee) is the straw that breaks this camel’s back. Suspecting a kidnapping/human trafficking conspiracy he turns his previous experience as a police detective toward finding his ‘charge’ and is led on a twisty and twisted journey over a tension charged 12 hrs. As Joong-ho faces down an alleged serial killer who he believes has taken his lost girl, we witness the multitudes of reasons he is no longer a member of the local constabulary.
In classic noir style Joong-ho is a flawed protagonist; in this case deeply flawed. He brow beats underlings, physically beats suspects, shows little to no sensitivity to other victims and witnesses, lies to the cops, and appears driven solely by his desire to not lose his own personal financial investment in the girls. In fact the most prominent positive trait you can ascribe to him is his tenacity in searching out his quarry; he simply refuses to give up. In the latter parts of The Chaser some more admirable qualities push their way to the fore but by that time you know for sure that this is one troubled guy.
Ha Jung-woo, as prime suspect Jee Yeong-min, turns in a creditably creepy performance of a psychologically disturbed everyman guy-next-door gone wrong. He leads the authorities on a frustrating race against the clock in which the police have only hours to get enough proof to convince a judge to grant them a warrant to arrest him – otherwise he goes free.
The Chaser’s visual and emotional aesthetic borrows more from the muted tones of Takeshi Kitano (Violent Cop, 1989; Sonatine, 1993) than of some of the more highly stylised latter day Korean gangster films like Kim Ji-woon’s A Bittersweet Life (2005). There is a palpable grimness exuded by both the characters and the suburban setting in Na’s film. Coupled with spurts of graphic violence this makes the movie a difficult watch and not for everone. And yet I came away from this movie oddly buoyed. Despite the atrocities we may perpetrate upon each other, even the least admirable of us have the capacity for concern and commendable actions. Though this tale is dark, and doesn’t promise the balm of nicely sewn up happy ending, the moments of grace within light up in stark contrast. It is in this respect that the director has lifted a solid genre piece above many of its contemporaries.
DVD Info + Special Features
The crisp 16×9 DVD transfer gives depth to the rain soaked exteriors in which the bulk of this film is set. The choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio does the trick whether you’re viewing with a home theatre system, with headphones, or just on a regular TV. The features on this package are pretty standard but solid nonetheless. A two part making of featurette (an extra 40 min all up) provide the director with an opportunity to give some background to the project and the usual production crew and actor insights. We learn that the story is based upon two high profile violent crimes in recent South Korean memory. Na Hong-Jin states that he wants people to take away a sense of horror that such stories are not always fictional – something I think he achieves. The disc is filled out with a trailer and a set of evocative production stills. A worthy single disc release for eastern action genre fans and thoughtful film watchers alike – as long as you can cope with the violence. You have been warned.
Single Disc Edition
Region 4 PAL
16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 / 2.0
Language: Korean with English Subtitles
Making of The Chaser Pt 1: bringing The Chaser to life (13 min)
Making of The Chaser Pt 2: on the street with The Chaser (28 min)
Eastern Eye Trailers
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: 18 – contains graphic violence and offensive language.
Duration: 119 mins
Genre: Crime-Thriller | Action
Director: Na Hong-Jin (2008)
Actors: Kim Yoon-suk, Ha Jung-woo, & Seo Young-hee.
Country: South Korea