Story: Jung Do-man (Jeong Jae-yeong) works as a traffic warden in the small town Sampo. He was demoted of his
former position as detective after he stepped on a corrupt governor's toe, who he couldn't get in jail, because of
lack of evidence.
Also sent to the town is Seung-woo (Son Byung-ho), who, as the new police chief, is supposed to take care of the numerous bank robberies taking place lately. Seung-woo already has come up with a strategy to fight the robberies, even though his plan is mainly aiming at winning back the trust of the townspeople. He plans a training mission, in which one policeman is supposed to play the bank robber. The police chief's man of choice is Do-man, who already draw his attention (in an unpleasent way) because of his strong conscientiousness. Do-man is everything but happy with this, but he plays along. However, what Seung-woo didn't calculate in his plan is that Do-man would really make all efforts to do his job right, so that the bank robbery turns into a hostage situation, eventually. Do-man plays his part perfectly, and for the police chief things start to get from bad to worse when the local media doesn't capture the kind of pictures he had in mind to show to the public. That is because as with time several police officers and hostages "die" during the simulation, so that even national media starts to take an interest in the case. The training mission turns into an embarrassing desaster for the police...
Review: When you think of Korean comedies, then it's always romantic comedies, which in most cases also demand
a certain amount of tissue usage. "Going by the Book", however, is totally different and therefore a really
refreshing and almost innovative film. To tag it as a comedy wouldn't be wrong, but the best way to describe with
one word what you have to expect is to call it a "satire". The script surprises with wit and profoundness, which shouldn't be
unexpectedly so as no one else than Jang Jin is jointly responsible for the plot. Jang could already excite us with
his stories for "Welcome to Dongmakgol" or "Ditto", and for some of his stories he sucessfully sat on the director's
chair himself, like "Someone Special" or "Guns and Talks". Therefore it doesn't really surprise that the story is the
actual driving force behind the success of this movie. Fortunately, the characters are also very charismatic and can
win the audience over in a wink. "Going by the Book" is an entertaining and interesting movie, that truely stands out
from those fluffy Korean romantic comedies.
At first, we don't know much about Do-man and that doesn't change for a while. In fact, if you want to blame the script for any shortcomings it's that it should have done a better job in working out Do-man's character. Luckily, Jeong Jae-yeong ("Someone Special", "Silmido") manages to bestow a certain profoundness upon his character with his charismatically reserved and almost stoically demeanor. Especially fascinating is, that we never doubt that Do-man is a good cop who could never kill someone, yet we can imagine that he might go overboard with the bank robbery, so that he might be heading for a tragic ending.
Nevertheless, after a while into the movie, the viewer understands that he doesn't need to expect a dramatic ending. Director Ra Hee-chan, resp. the script writers, build a lot of irony into their comedy, yet astoundingly also manage that the film remains thrilling at any point. We are quite aware that this isn't a real bank robbery, and that the life of none of the hostages is in danger. Nonetheless, we are sitting on the edge of our seat as we have no idea how things may play out in the end.
The humor of "Going by the Book" doesn't work on a slapstick level, but instead is full of inventive and well-done jokes, that can make you laugh out loud on several occasions. Especially, the "what would be if..."-moments, e.g. when one of the supposedly shot policeman gets up again and tries to overpower the bank robber, because he just happened to remember that he would have worn a bulletproof vest on a real mission, will easily make you laugh. Even the more when the employees and the bank robber argue if the policeman received a head shot or not, which leads to a scene where they watch the surveillance video to solve the problem. By the way, the employees are tied up by sheets of paper hung around their neck on which is written... well, that they are tied up... or dead. Another funny fact is that some of the scenes are depicted with an actual display of violence, even though we know, of course, that all of these moments are solely a part of the protagonists' imagination. At other times the humor is also a bit more offensive, even if still innovative. For instance, one of the "knocked-down" female employees stands up again, because she believes that she wouldn't be unconscious anymore, and even revolts against the hostage taker again. Therefore, Do-man does a few push-ups, which at first seems incredibly out of place, and then the scene switches to the woman sitting on the floor with a new paper around her neck: "raped"...
The bank robbery takes longer than expected, especially since the police force proves to be unbelievably incapable, so that Do-man can even take out a whole SWAT-team without shedding one single drop of sweat. However, as time goes by, even though it's still a simulation, this also makes the situation more and more stressful for the employees, so that they lose their interest in playing along. Yet, Do-man is still making an effort to keep everything under control, and even though he might not be a real professional criminal as his knowledge about bank robbers is mostly derived of movies he watched beforehand, he has enough wits to muck around with the police. The police itself is powerless, as its incompetence exceeds the dimwittedness of any bank robber. They even manage to shot a hostage by mistake! Of course, this all draws more and more circles until even the national media believes to have found a field day with this.
Somehow, the robbery gets some serious shades and the hostage situation in fact feels threatening, as we always have to recall that all of this could actually happen in a real case, too. And the police would give an image at least as stupid as here. Thankfully the director doesn't make the mistake to suddenly turn his movie into a drama, but instead always manages to deliver a good joke or two when the film is about to become too serious. Or he just shows the employees who at least partly begin to enjoy their roles as hostages and even support the bank robber in a way. Towards the end we even realize how close of a bond there truely is between these men and women and the bank robber.
The movie also deserves some words of praise for the fact that there isn't a redundant love story implemented. There is actually a girl of whom we may think that she could become a couple with Do-man in the future, but this thought is only conceived and might only happen in a future not dealt with in the frame the movie. Unfortunately, the last minute of the film really could have been left out, as it gives the whole picture an unnecessarily trivial aftertaste.
"Going by the Book" is an inventive satire, that stands out with a high level of tension, good jokes and great actors. Entertaining and innovative almost until the last minute, this is a movie that turned out to be a positive surprise!