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Chronicles of Evil - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Ak-eui yeon-dae-gi

South Korea 2015

Crime, Thriller

Baek Woon-hak

Son Hyeon-joo
Ma Dong-seok
Daniel Choi
Park Seo-joon
Jeong Won-joong
Lee Tae-hyeong
Han Seong-cheon

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Chronicles of Evil

Chronicles of Evil - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Choi Chang-shik (Son Hyeon-joo) has been promoted and his colleagues, among them ever-reliable detective Oh (Ma Dong-seok) and rookie Jin-gyoo (Daniel Choi), celebrate with him. When Choi sits in a taxi after the party he is attacked by the driver, though. Apparently, the driver wants to take revenge on him for something. In fact, Choi doesn't have a clean slate, but when he defends himself his attacker dies and he also becomes a killer. Since his superior made it perfectly clear that both of their future depend on him just making positive news in the next few days Choi decides to cover up the murder. However, the next day the killed man hangs from the end of a crane just in front of the police station, which turns the case into a big media spectacle. Choi is assigned to carry out the investigation, but he is still absolutely shocked how the body could get near the police station. It seems as if someone is playing a perfidious game with him. To make things worse Jin-gyoo also finds the tie pin of his captain in the taxi that has been parked near where the body has been found. Jin-gyoo suspects his captain to be involved, but he doesn't know what action to take. At the same time Choi doesn't just need to obstruct the investigation as inconspicuously as possible, but also has to find the man who is zeroing in on him.

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Review: If South Korean moviemakers would try their hand at a Hong Kong thriller the result would probably look like "Chronicles of Evil". After all, karma is playing an important part here as well and considering a story around a vortex of corruption that takes everything down with it, it shouldn't come as a surprise either when everything seems to be going down to hell towards the end. The dark motives and the everything but heroic characters stand as the movie's highlights along with the smart screenplay. Without a doubt, the thriller convinces especially well since, like Hong Kong flicks from the 80s and 90s, it puts the human factor into the foreground and thus also makes moral questions part of the film's theme. The drama doesn't lay it on thick as would be typical Korean, but instead fits in seamlessly into the grueling atmosphere.

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It is in fact quite brave to make a film only one year after the blockbuster success "A Hard Day" that shares the same premise at its core. Yet, very soon it becomes pretty obvious that Choi doesn't try to solve his own murder with lots of black humor involved. Instead, he is quite clearly emotionally on the ropes. And not just because there is still some information to be uncovered about him, which his victim already hinted at. Apparantly, Choi has already done some wrong before. But even though he seems to be corrupt you can't say that he is unlikable. For this to be true he simply treats his subordinates too much like family. He seems to be a nice guy after all, it's just that the shades of grey that his character has naturally go hand in hand with some shades of black. And that's also what constitutes the thriller's suspense: the mystery around the secrets the protagonist tries to hide and whether they are about to come to light eventually, and if they do in what way.

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It has become so rare for us to get a well told story in a thriller that the plot deserves some special words of praise. Because besides the premise the film goes into a completely different direction than "A Hard Day" and in the end doesn't remind us of that movie at all anymore. The story of "Chronicles of Evil" is full of twists and turns as well as new pieces of information. In other words, the movie isn't content with just providing us with a great revelation at the end (although it manages to accomplish this as well), but thanks to new information we are constantly able to look at the case from a new perspective. There aren't just quite a few details the skilled eye can make out and which are proof of a screenplay that has been revisited multiple times, but even the evident plot holes turn out to be fully logical in the end.

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The quality of the great screenplay is even the more surprising since Baek Woon-hak is responsible for it, a director who delivered a technically convincing film with "Tube" which nonetheless was rather moderate storywise, to say the least. Baek proves that he has added quite a few things to his repertoire during the last few years - he also has gained some experience as assistant director for "Shiri" - and he continuously gives his thriller the necessary amount of tension, apart from a breather in the middle. It's quite surprising as well that the action scenes turn out to be unusually tense. There are only two very short physical encounters, but they are absolutely worth watching! Moreover, the city is made use of very well as a backdrop. Furthermore, the soundtrack is also convincing. Accordingly, in technical respects the movie is even to be considered above the already high standards of Korean cinema.

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Son Hyeon-joo ("Hide and Seek", "Secretly Greatly") manages that, despite his reclusiveness - there are, after all, quite a few things he has to hide from others and some of that stuff is making him feel sick to the stomach -, we are able to root for him. Being convincing in the supporting roles are particularly Ma Dong-seok ("The Murderer", "The Neighbors") again as well as Daniel Choi ("11 AM", "Cyrano Agency"). Thanks to the complex characters and the smartly woven script as well as a tense atmosphere "Chronicles of Evil" is particularly successful on an emotional level and also delivers some material to reflect upon with its themes of corruption and moralities. Even when you are emotionally devastated and lying on the ground this film will still continue kicking you in the stomach... It wouldn't have needed much more for an even better rating, but the way it is this film is still one of the best and grittiest - even though almost completely unbloody - South Korean thrillers of the last few years.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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