Story: Jo Pil-seong (Kim Yun-seok) is a policeman and a good-for-nothing. He likes to gamble and also isn't
really successful concerning his work in the little provincial town he lives in. His wife (Gyeon Mi-ri) doesn't
respect her husband anymore for a while already and their two mutual daughters have to grow up in a household in which money
is always lacking while the house is also used as a book store.
One day Pil-seong gets suspended for three months because he caused a pimp to get a heart attack. He takes the money from his wife's bank book and bets it in a bull fight. When he wins he is overjoyed but his happiness doesn't last too long as the escaped prisoner Song Gi-tae (Jeong Kyeong-ho) mugs him and beats him up. The police doesn't believe his story, his wife doesn't want anything to do with him anymore and Pil-seong seems to have lost all the respect left from the people around him. By chance, he meets the girlfriend of the escapee, Kyeong-joo (Seon Woo-seon), at whose home Gi-tae has found shelter. He follows her and together with some friends they decide to go on the hunt for Gi-tae without the police's help in order to restore Pil-seong's honor.
Review: Actor Kim Yun-seok has given an impressive performance in the bloody thriller "The Chaser" as a pimp
who chases after a serial killer. His acting abilities were so amazing that you could actually describe him as a
mix of Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho. Of course such comparisons don't do justice to Kim Yun-seok, but it nonetheless
proves on which acting level he is working. "Running Turtle" irritatingly has some obvious parallels to "The Chaser".
And that's not only because of the criminal who walks around with a black baseball cap, but also because of Kim Yun-seok's
character who seems similar at first glance. However, soon "Running Turtle" proves to be not as gritty or thrilling as the
already mentioned movie, but instead a lot more lighthearted, funnier and more character-focused. Yun-seok's role also
differentiates itself more and more from his former one. As a likeable loser he soon has won over the audience's
sympathy and thus the drama of his life can really move us.
Pil-seong is a pitiable guy. That's because he isn't actually fully incompetent, yet seems to be incredibly unlucky in everything he does. Whatever he touches turns to dust. The movie's appeal derives from the fact that it takes its time to introduce the protagonists and their lives in a detailed as well as in an easygoing and lighthearted manner. Therefore, "Running Turtle" almost becomes a character drama which is a welcome change to the usual focus in a thriller even the more as the film also doesn't lose focus of its humor. More than anything else it's Pil-seong's wife and his younger daughter who add to the three-dimensionality of the main character. But his friends also give the character some more edgy feel. His circle of friends consists of some likeable rowdies, mind you no thugs, who carry their heart at the right place, but are far more incompetent than Pil-seong. In general, the supporting characters add a lot to the atmosphere of the provincial town and one or two of them can be called some real country bumpkins.
The fact that the film takes place in a suburban municipality and that the police is depicted as a bunch of incompetent idiots also reminds us of "Memories of Murder", of course. Because of its unusual humor you actually don't think of copyright infringement when seeing those references, but it instead leaves the impression of a homage. At times you get the feeling that the script is a bit going overboard concerning the incapability of the police, though. What purpose does a roadblock serve if a bicycler can drive past it unhindered? Why does the police screw up Pil-seong's chance to take out Gi-tae once and for all? During those scenes you inevitably will roll your eyes, but apart from that there are even more logical gaps in "Running Turtle". For example, why does Pil-seong follow Kyeong-joo to her home? What makes him so suspicious to follow her and look through her window? There are some conincidences that are simply too much to turn a blind eye to them harming the movie's overall quality.
The criminal in the film only gets limited space to draw out his character. He seems to be thief, who has stolen a few jewels and moreover is a martial arts expert which is why he can even stand against a great number of opponents without any problems. Furthermore, it has to be pointed out that the fights are by far not captured in an aesthetical, but in a very realistic fashion, which makes the fights look like brawls. However, Gi-tae is no monster at all. Especially his love story with Kyeong-joo is proof of that or the fact that he spares Pil-seong's life on severals occasions. Yet, the audience always roots for Pil-seong, because to capture Song Gi-tae doesn't mean to get a ruthless killer off the streets but to get the life of a policeman on the right track again and restore his honor. As the movie works on this drama level, therefore making the motives very human, the viewer has easy access to "Running Turtle" and suffers with Pil-seong as it's certain that something will go terribly wrong again, even if it might not look that bad for him at the moment.
Director Lee Yeon-woo's second movie ("2424") is a humorous thriller, which takes itself serious enough to be captivating at the same time. The directing also walks a thin line between thriller and comedy, yet keeps balance surprisingly well, even the more because the film refrains from implementing slapstick moments. The ending isn't really unexpected and the last scene of the movie also seems rather superfluous, but this also shows that the movie doesn't want to be taken too serious. Especially some of the script's logical gaps are quite annoying, though. Luckily, Kim Yun-seok can make up for that with his great acting abilities. The suburban atmosphere along with its incompetent, yet sympathetic inhabitants can also win you over. All in all "Running Turtle" is simply an entertaining thriller of a more lighthearted nature, that more than anything else works because of Kim Yun-seok and the drama that revolves around his life.