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Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2019

Thriller, Action

Lee Jeong-beom

Lee Sun-kyun
Jeon So-nee
Park Hae-joon
Song Young-chang
Park Byung-eun
Im Hyeong-gook
Nam Moon-chul
Kim Min-jae

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Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage

Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Jo Pil-ho (Lee Sun-kyun) is a corrupt cop, who commits several thefts with his accomplice, a small-time criminal. One day, he plans on committing his last and biggest theft. He wants to break into a warehouse of the police, in which evidence is kept. For inexplicable reasons, though, the entire building suddenly blows up. Pil-ho wakes up in a hospital while his accomplice died in the explosion. Because the internal affairs department was already on Pil-ho's trail anyway, even his superior can't help him anymore. But at the moment, they also can't provide hard evidence against him. Pil-ho goes to his dead accomplice's apartment, but can't find the money they had stolen up until their final theft. On a surveillance video, he sees that a friend of his accomplice, the girl Mi-na (Jeon So-nee), had been there earlier. He finds her, but she manages to escape. Eventually, Kim Min-jae (Kim Min-jae) from the IA contacts him again and introduces him to a prosecutor who is willing to help if, in return, Pil-ho gives him a video his accomplice recently sent to him and Mi-na. This video shows how the company Taesung put explosives all over the police warehouse, because there was evidence for a huge case against the company in there. But Pil-ho threw his cell phone away to get rid of any sort of evidence and he has never seen the video either. Now, Mi-na is the only one in possession of the video and the people from Taesung are already closing in on the girl.

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Review: Despite its strange title which makes an international Netflix audience steer clear of the movie (is it a famous person's name or an entire thriller series?), I was still looking forward to it, because it was directed by Lee Jeong-beom, who was already able to show off his abilities with "The Man From Nowhere". His newest movie was not that well received by most critics, though. For the most part, I cannot subscribe to the reasons for that, but "Jo Pil-ho" indeed has some serious problems. For starters, the movie feels a little bit torn apart and the focus of the story shifts one time too many. It seems as if the director wanted to squeeze in too many different ideas into one little movie, and then completely neglected the movie's real strengths: the two main characters, who get far too little time on screen together.

Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage - Film Screenshot 5

Lee Sun-kyun actually is the perfect man for the job as the protagonist. You can easily believe him to be a corrupt cop who can get physically violent at times, but who can offer up some humorous moments as well. Of course, this reminds us of his role in "A Hard Day". And even if Pil-ho doesn't get a real background story - which, for instance, could have dealt with why he became corrupt in the first place - we do get to see him in some scenes with his girlfriend and by watching how well he treats her, we realize what kind of person he really is. Maybe a little bit selfish, but in his core, he is not a bad guy. Now there might be people, who would want for a person to relate to in the movie, but especially the anti-hero in the center of the story, who has to question his behavior due to what he experiences and eventually changes his position, is extremely fascinating. And then there is a young girl, played by Jeon So-nee, who is full of hatred for the entire world and has come to the right person with Pil-ho if she wants to vent all this hatred on someone.

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The chemistry between the two actors is very good and there is even room for some funny moments between them. An interesting relationship develops between Pil-ho and Mi-na, which is not simply of a father-daughter-nature. But we do not get to see what exactly that relationship would evolve to, because it quickly takes a back seat again. This is confusing, because initially you ask yourself, why it took so long for the movie to put those two on screen together in the first place. At least, that's what you think, when you still assume that the relationship between the two is the key element of the movie. But as mentioned earlier, this is not the case. Director Lee shifts the focus so much from Pil-ho and the internal affairs investigation to the cop's search for his money and then to the mysterious video and the conspiracy around a big company, that in the end, you don't know whether you are still watching the same movie or different episodes of a TV show.

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There was a lot of criticism about the way the Sewol disaster was implemented. Mi-na's loss of a friend could easily have been explained by something like a simple car accident, some critics say. I disagree with that. Mi-na's hatred for adults does not just get clear in a scene on a rooftop, but also when she explains in a rather childish fashion how she would like to be a titan like in "Attack on Titan", destroying the president's house and eating all the politicians in there. This is an adolescent girl's anger on the government's failures when it came to rescuing numerous schoolgirls from the sinking ferry Sewol. Mi-na has lost entire parallel classes in this disaster and has headed for the gutter ever since. This side plot as well as the one of her deceased friend's father are woven into the movie quite nicely and are not unnecessarily pushed into the foreground just to get some tear-jerker moments, which would be the case in most dramas. Nevertheless, the bereaved people's pain is still conveyed quite nicely.

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The only thing you should mention in this respect, is the fact that this side plot prolongs the movie even more, as it is rather long with a running time of over two hours to begin with. In addition, some of the supporting characters turned out a little bit too stereotypical and some of their actions are not really logical either. Not to mention Pil-ho's complete incompetence in almost every respect, which simply has to make you chuckle at some point. There is suspense, humor, action, surprises, so basically everything you would expect of the genre. Also, there is a finale, which has to be called rather original because initially, it reminds us of a Hong Kong flick or a revenge thriller, but then it turns into something completely different. "Jo Pil-ho" is an entertaining movie, which would deserve a better rating if it felt more whole, avoided some clichés and put the two protagonists on screen a little bit longer. The way it is, all that remains is an unpolished piece of work.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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