Director: Na Hong-jin
Writer: Na Hong-jin
Cast: Yun-seok Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Yeong-hie Seo, In-gi Jung, Hyo-ju Park
Running Time: 123 min.
It took me a second viewing to realize it but “The Chaser” is probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It’s also an extremely frustrating experience. “The Chaser” is a thriller that refuses to behave like one as writer/director Na Hong-jin embraces the sad and pathetic nature of existence. The screenplay takes its inspiration from the real life case of South Korea’s worst serial killer. As the police narrow in on the murderer, they continually bungle the operation due to their own incompetence or bureaucracy tying their hands. Viewers can’t be blamed for posing the question: are these plot contrivances meant to express how absurd the universe can be or merely a way to increase the film’s runtime? Ultimately, I’ve decided “The Chaser” is a dark, dark film that delivers popcorn thrills at the same time Na Hong-jin acknowledges that life is often without hope.
The main character of the film is an ex-cop turned pimp, played by Kim Yun-seok. When several of his prostitutes go missing, he suspects they’re being kidnapped and sold off. That is, until he puts the pieces together and realizes they’ve all recently seen the customer. When Kim Yun-seok tracks the client (Ha Jung-woo) down, the two begin a cat-and-mouse game that sends their night spiraling out of control. Meanwhile, across town, an angry protestor tosses feces at the mayor of Seoul. Yes, these two plot points do converge!
What “The Chaser” excels at is atmosphere. It is a film shot entirely at night and yet the image never looks too grainy or dark to see. It completely immerses the viewer in that vibe of being behind the wheel of a black Jaguar as it cruises down the bustling streets of Seoul at night. The sense of ‘life after dark’ is unparalleled here.
To back up the crisp cinematography and directing are two excellent performances from Yun-seok and Jung-woo. To say that these two men carry the film would be an understatement. Yun-seok begins the story as someone not exactly deserving of the audience’s sympathy, being a money-grubbing pimp and all, but he undergoes a transformation into a protagonist the audience feels vindicated in rooting for. Jung-woo brings to life his worthy adversary, possibly one of the creepiest killers to ever grace the screen – a make who looks and acts normal on the surface but below is completely deranged.
Much like Ryoo Seung-wan’s 2010 film “The Unjust,” “The Chaser” portrays Korean society as entirely shot through with corruption and strife. Bumbling detectives make every kind of mistake in trying to catch the killer; the top brass only care about their image in the media; and the only person we have to root for is a low-budget pimp.
But that’s exactly what makes “The Chaser” work – the film doesn’t play fair. Much like “I Saw the Devil” or “Memories of Murder,” it’s a thriller that seems to get off on denying viewers the catharsis that is expected of the revenge genre. The fact that it became the #3 highest grossing film of all time in Korea despite its bleak subject matter is a testament to Na Hong-jin’s talent as a filmmaker. He’s got us right in the palm of his hand during the film’s entire 125 minute runtime – and we love him for it. “The Chaser” is a film that fits comfortably alongside other modern Korean classics and it’s one that cinema buffs will be talking about for quite some time.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8.5/10
By Mighty Peking Man
What a sigh of relief. A Korean thriller that’s not trying to be some Hollywood bullshit with big explosions, insane action scenes and cg-effects. I’m so sick of that crap. Come to think of it, I don’t think there’s one gunshot in the whole movie. But then again, I’m talking out of my ass since The Chaser isn’t exactly that type of flick. It’s more of a thriller-drama but with enough sloppy beat-ups and gruesome visuals to keep the action-addict happy.
The Chaser is about an ex-cop turned pimp (yes, you read that right) who realizes his “bitches” are sporadically disappearing one by one. He backtracks through his paperwork and figures out that the latest missing girl was sent to the same guy the previous missing victim was sent to…
That’s basically all I’m going to tell you about the plot. Telling you any more would be too much typing for my lazy ass; more importantly, I’ll probably give too much away in the process.
The Chaser is director Na Hong-jin’s first full-length feature film (prior to this, he received some buzz for some short film he made). I like his directing style and his approach to story-telling. He’s a director with balls and not some lame filmmaker who has to reference the feel of Hollywood movies to please the mass audience. I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye out for his work.
Both the lead actors (Yun-seok Kim and Jung-woo Ha) put on amazing performances. I could tell you right now that Yun-seok Kim is special. He’s got that certain something about him. He’s one of those cool Asian cats that you just love seeing on screen. You know, another Chow Yun Fat, Song Kang-Ho, Lau Ching Wan or Tony Leung… get my drift? I really should get off my ass and seek out more of his films.
The Chaser is entertaining as hell. Paced just right. It’s brutal, dark, funny, bloody and beautiful. The best flick I’ve seen this year. Period.
Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 10/10