Story: Seo-joon (Byun Yo-han) is a construction worker and is promoted by his boss. He therefore promises his wife that he will finally make up for their skipped honeymoon, and life in general seems to look bright again. However, his wife then gets a call saying that there has been a death on the construction site and Seo-joon bears the responsible for it. The caller tells her that her husband is with the police at the moment, but that there is still a chance to reach an agreement before they press charges if the wife is willing to transfer $70,000. By the time Seo-joon's wife realizes she has fallen victim to a phone scam, it is too late. The bank transfer has already gone through, and the scammers have withdrawn the money. The same men also defrauded Seo-joon's boss of three million dollars, money he owes his employees, among others. The head of the construction company therefore takes his own life. Seo-joon decides to get to the bottom of things and wants to get the money back. In fact, he used to be a police detective, and he still has a contact that he can use for his first lead. When he presents his first clue to the police, it turns out that they are actually interested in the real masterminds who are working from their headquarter in China. Realizing that he cannot expect any serious help getting his own money and that of his colleagues back, Seo-joon decides to infiltrate the organization and go to China himself. In doing so, he is putting himself into a dangerous game, though.
Review: Scam calls and phishing emails have been around as a modern form of fraud for a while now, but with the advancement of technology and people's willingness to share private information without even thinking about it, scamming has taken on a more sophisticated form. The angle of "On the Line" is therefore extremely refreshing for a thriller, and you even have to ask yourself why there aren't more movies dealing with this topic. The thriller actually manages to draw us into the story right away. We get an insight into the methods of the highly organized scammers and witness the suffering they cause. All this is extremely fascinating, as is the protagonist's initial investigative work. But that is just until the second half of the movie, in which "On the Line" unfortunately completely wastes its potential and isn't even half as gripping anymore.
Strictly speaking, though, it becomes clear right from the start that things aren't perfect here. Seo-joon's wife allows herself to get ripped off so easily by the phishing call that it almost hurts. Of course, it's the scammers method to exploit their victims' emotions and desperate situation, but the fact that Seo-joon's wife doesn't even hesitate once or questions whether there is any truth to the story, speaks for itself. At the latest when she stops walking in the middle of an intersection during a call, all you really want is for her to get hit by a car. You ask yourself whether it was really necessary to portray the victim, who is supposed to be the driving force for the story's hero to embark on his dangerous mission, in such a stupid way, because it actually makes it hard to feel sorry for her. At least, there are some scamming attempts later on, which are a bit more believable. But the movie's core element comes across a little exaggerated.
That aside, it is equally unbelievable that the hero of the story used to be a police officer. Through one or two sentences we find out later why Seo-joon is no longer working as a cop, but it just feels like lazy script writing. We simple need some kind of reason for our hero to eventually go to China in order to bust the organization from within working "undercover". But that's where problems start. The villain Kwak, played by Kim Mu-yeol ("The Devil's Deal"), shows up far too late in the story, and he isn't even the mastermind behind everything, he is just the person who called Seo-joon's wife. Kwak is certainly a hateful individual, but since the movie suddenly tries to work with its characters, it becomes very clear that this is exactly where its weaknesses lie. And this also becomes obvious when you notice the amount of new characters being introduced, none of whom have much influence on the rest of the story.
This problem is much worse with the hero, though. Byun Yo-han ("A Day") plays the super detective, who is able to defend himself against a whole regiment of enemies at the beginning, but later in China, suddenly struggles facing two or three opponents. Yet, even more problematic is the fact that he lacks personality. At the beginning, when the pacing is still high and we follow the breadcrumbs to China, this is not a big deal, but when the former detective is locked up in a building with other scam callers and has a little more time to talk to his "colleagues", it becomes more obvious how flat he and all the other characters are written. In addition, you get the feeling that this part could have been based on a manga, in which people compete against each other in perfidious games (who earns the most money?) in a confined space, but in the end, the story completely lacks the kind of tension and intensity that you would have expected here.
Unfortunately, the action also leaves a lot to be desired. As mentioned before, the fast pace from the beginning is nowhere to be found towards the end because the movie also falls apart narratively. There is hardly any real action, or it is simply implemented in a pretty unimaginative way. The only exception to this is an escape in the elevator shaft, which is quite original. You would have wished for more stunts like these, because you repeatedly get to see hints of good ideas in "On the Line". Sadly, the thriller doesn't manage to keep up the same kind of quality in its second half as it had at the beginning, partly because it loses its focus on the investigative work. Even with their relatively small budget, directors Kim Gok and Kim Sun undoubtedly managed to create an interesting thriller, which also points out the dangers of scam calls defrauding their victims in Korea of 600 million dollars a year. The fact that you shouldn't be guided by your emotions when it comes to money is a praiseworthy message, but despite a good start, the thriller unfortunately lacks some finishing touches.