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Original Title:
Mr. Socrates

South Korea 2005

Action, Drama

Choi Jin-won

Kim Rae-won
Lee Jong-hyeok
Kang Shin-il
Yoon Tae-young
Oh Kwang-rok
Park Seong-woong

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Mr. Socrates

Story: Ku Dong-hyeok's (Kim Rae-won) life doesn't amount to much. He is a thug in the local mafia organisation and has a father who sits in jail for quite some time already. There is also a younger brother, who he tries to protect from his fate. However, suddenly he gets recruted for a special task within the organisation. He is locked inside a school and is supposed to learn day in and day out under the supervision of a teacher (Kang Shin-il). Dong-hyeoks initial unwillingness slowly but surely fades, when he understands that his life depends on him learning diligently. Later, he also gets to know the reason for his torture: He is supposed to become a policeman, who takes on certain jobs for the organisation. Dong-hyeok's new boss Detective Shin (Lee Jong-hyeok) at first doesn't think much of the rookie, but thanks to the help of his "associates" in the mafia the new recruit can solve some cases in almost no time. Shin decides to take Dong-hyeok under his wings, but soon the recently promoted police officer has to execute his first job for the organisation. Dong-hyeok now has to decide which path to choose...

Review: "Mr. Socrates" delivers solid action entertainment, even though the end product sadly proves to be just mediocre. There is a obvious lack of wit and originality to the film, so that we have to ask ourselves why to watch this movie instead of any other Korean mafia movie of the kind not really being gloomy but instead dealing with its topic in a more easily accessable way. Anyway, you could forgive such flaws, if it weren't for the inconsistencies, logical gaps and most of all a protagonist, who always seems a bit elusive. Some parts of the movie for themselves may serve as some decent pastime, but as a whole "Mr. Socrates" can't convince, which also makes the movie somewhat frustrating and hollow. This is even the more sad, as we have some good starting points from which the movie, if it had headed into the right direction, could have become more than just a mediocre evening filler.

It also doesn't take long until we get aware that we are watching a gangster film the sort of which there are many. There is shown violence without a stop, preferably with a baseball bat, and half of the script consists of swear words. Not really what you would call inventive, but at least there is no mass brawl like it is standard protocol in the genre. Well, except of one small scene, that is... Anyway, the film is without a doubt about Dong-hyeok, who therefore is in the movie's focus all of the time, additionally undergoes some sort of maturation, yet remains pretty shallow, nonetheless. The audience just can't have any sympathies for him. At first, one reason for that might be that he is a ruthless gangster, but even later on, after he has found a new perspective in life, he just can't win us over. And this even though he did get a little bit of a background story. Unfortunately, the filmmakers couldn't make good use of it.

What's particularly strange is the fact how Dong-hyeok was able to become a policeman. Is there no criminal records bureau check in Korea before letting someone get this job? Did the scriptwriter just miss this out or is it in fact possible as a former criminal to work for the other side? Preferentially working as a mole like it is the case here, of course. But maybe the filmmakers actually wanted to stress out how corrupt the police is, while on the contrary we are introduced to Detective Shin as someone whom we easily can sympathize with. The only problem is, that he finds his way into the movie a little bit too late, and that the buddy factor that is supposed to be set up between him and his new partner Dong-hyeok, seems too forced, since it's all presented in a rushed fashion. In general there is a certain fast pacing in the movie that isn't really doing it any good, as we get the feeling that many things are dealt with in a perfunctory manner. A good example is the ending, which surprises us a little too sudden, whereas the director desperately tries to somehow connect all loose ends in a hurry.

The part at the school is funny, though. Dong-hyeok is made to learn and as motivation to do so torture is playing everything but a small role in the process. After a lengthy resistance he finally has to realize, however, that he has no other choice and so he starts to study, eventually. Still, it's not a big deal what he is learning, as one of the feautured mathematical excercises presented is proof of, and the rest of the curriculum actually consists merely of memorization of some philosophical maxims. Whatever, it seems to be enough to pass the police exam...
When Dong-hyeok is part of the police force the inevitable happens, naturally, and he has to ask himself who he actually is now and which path he is supposed to take. After all, this is his first opportunity in life to make something of himself. Yet, at this point, "Mr. Socrates" makes too much use of a moral cudgel and not really in a subtle way. Moreover, the proverbs of some of the philosophers Dong-hyeok uses over and over again, seem futilely and forcedly implemented into the movie.

There is something episode-like about "Mr. Socrates" and unfortunately the main actor can't hold the film together either. A gangster film of which there are numerous, which can at best win some points with its cynical humor. But the story and the bumpy screenplay in general just can't win us over. The fact that the pacing is always pretty high and that there are some small action scenes thrown in can't change that matter. What's most annoying is that the film oftentimes tries to look smarter and more profound than it actually is. Nevertheless, the fairly somber-brutal mood can be appealing, but is always brightened up by the humor. Taking all of this into account it's simply not enough to justify a recommendation, for Korea has undoubtedly brought out better movies, so that "Mr. Socrates" will merely arouse the interest of hardcore fans of the genre.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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