CHASER, THE (Chugyeogja)(director/writer: Hong-jin Na; screenwriters: Won-Chan Hong/Shinho Lee; cinematographer: Lee Sung-je; editor: Sun-min Kim; music: Yongrock Choi; cast: Kim Yun-seok (Joong-ho Eom), Ha Jung-woo (Young-min Jee), Yeong-hie Seo (Mi-jin Kim), In-gi Jung (Detective Lee), Hyo-ju Park (Detective Oh), Koo Bon-woong (Meathead), Kim You-jung (Young Daughter), Hee-seon Son (Grocery Store Owner); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Moon-Su Choi; IFC Films; 2008-South Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)
“An impotent thriller about an insane serial killer, incompetent cops and an irritating overweight sweaty pimp.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
South Korean director Na Hong-jin is a Christian and uses Christian symbols throughout this pic in a way that forces a religious message onto a film that has difficulty absorbing that message. It’s his debut as a director. Na Hong-jin keeps The Chaser stylish, overlong, and grisly. It’s a serial-killer film that never finds itself after running all over Seoul’s eerie suburban Mangwon district with its antihero looking for either redemption or to protect his financial investment. It’s an impotent thriller about an insane serial killer, incompetent cops and an irritating overweight sweaty pimp searching for a missing call girl he feels guilty about after sending her out on a dangerous job when she had a cold and not realizing she was a single mom who left a young daughter behind. The Chaser is vastly inferior to South Korean countryman Bong Joon-Ho’s similar themed “Memories of Murder (2003).”
Not much more than a blood-splatter treat, with a bunch of idiotic characters and an unpleasant antihero pimp trying to either make us laugh or grimace at the manipulative blood-letting tale of the unsavory venal character chasing after a psychopath who butchers his victims as if they were pigs.
It won the Grand Prize award at the 44th Baeksang Art Awards, the five top prizes at the 45th Daejong Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, and was very well received at Cannes. Also, it was the biggest box office success in its domestic market during 2008.
Flabby ex-cop turned pimp Joong-ho (Kim Yun-Seok) is on the trail of a creepy blank-faced serial killer named Young-min (Ha Jung-Woo) who has kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered two of his girls, who the pimp mistakenly thinks ran away from him. The sicko has now kidnapped a third girl named Mi-jin (Yeong-hie Seo), and has clubbed her on the skull with a chisel and left her bound and bleeding in a dank cellar where he temporarily resides.
The police get involved but they fumble the investigation and let the killer go even though he’s arrested and confesses to the murder of several area prostitutes, as political pressure is put on them by the higher authorities that the press will report that the prisoner has been beaten and they wish to avoid a public relations nightmare. For the politicos, the more important case is the arrest of a political activist who threw shit in the mayor’s face. It’s now up to the pimp and his lame-brained assistant Meathead (Koo Bon-woong) to see if they can rescue Mi-jin in time and recapture the killer.
The best parts are reserved for the many chases on foot through the dark and rainy alleyways of an indifferent Seoul.
The film has a disturbing habit of being playful while continually dishing out a bloody horror story through contrived situations that rely on too many unbelievable coincidences, an awkward combination that seemed disingenuous. It repeatedly shows the police incompetence (the film’s overriding aim being an indictment of the system to function properly), and also that technology sometimes can’t save the day (cell phones can’t operate when most needed). The film’s denouement offers mean-spirited fun at the expense of the victim and through the grating nature of the pimp who calls his helper Meathead a moron at every turn. Besides being grim and gruesome, the story could never offer anything more than simplistic characters such as an impotent serial killer, a whore with a heart of gold, a slimy money-hungry pimp and an assortment of stupid cops.
The Chaser was grabbed up by Hollywood’s Warner Brothers for a remake and will be written by William Monahan, who did the script for Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning The Departed.
It can be seen on IFC On Demand.
REVIEWED ON 5/2/2009 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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