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South Korea 2008


Na Hong-jin

Kim Yoon-seok
Ha Jeong-woo
Seo Yeong-hee
Jung In-gi
Park Hyo-ju
Koo Bon-woong
Kim Yoo-jeong
Min Kyeong-jin
Kim Choon-gi
Lee In-cheol
Choi Jeong-woo

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The Chaser

Story: Jung-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) is a former policeman who now earns a living on the streets as a pimp. But his business attracts all kinds of trouble. His biggest problem, however, is the fact that several of his girls have recently skipped town. On one of those days where nothing seems to be going well he's forced to call up single mother Min-ji (Seo Yeong-hee). He's able to convince her in taking on a client even though she had called in sick earlier that day. Not until Min-ji has already met up with the client, Yeong-min (Ha Jeong-woo), do several coincidences point her pimp's attention to the fact that Yeong-min was also the last client of all of the girls who have been disappearing. Jung-ho suspects Yeong-min of selling his girls on to other pimps and starts searching for him even though he doesn't even have an address to start with. Due to another coincidence, who should crash into Jung-ho's car but the person he was looking for at that moment? Jung-ho drags Yeong-min to the next police station where Yeong-min confesses having killed twelve women and that his next victim will be Min-ji, who is already locked up in his basement. Jung-ho doesn't believe his story, yet sets out to find Min-ji. As time passes he's forced to realize that Yeong-min really is an insane serial killer...

Review: There aren't many Korean thrillers that can really keep you on the edge of your seat. However, we should be able to expect this from "The Chaser", being the surprise hit of 2008. The film managed to become the best-selling movie of the year just by word of mouth, even though it is essentially a low budget flick. And it is, as so often is the case when something turns into a hype, not really justifiable. "The Chaser" is an undoubtedly good film with several incredibly strong points, but its faults are equally visible. Still, we should be thankful for this rare, truly suspenseful Korean thriller. The hype around it might be explained away by the fact that people were so much in need of a genuine hit, one which seemed completely elusive up to this point, that they assumed they'd found it here. Nevertheless, "The Chaser" does not only score with its story or technical rendition, but also in the way the story is told. It is really astounding how much a film can gain simply by knowing how to tell the story right.

The fascinating thing about "The Chaser" is that newcomer director Na Hong-jin doesn't put his focus on the search for the killer, who's in police custody from the first thirty minutes on, but on the search for the victim. Of course the search ends up being a race against time because Yeong-min can only be detained for 12 hours without evidence, even though he's already confessed to everything. Especially interesting is the way in which the police officers are depicted. Incompetent and going around in circles, unable to connect the simplest clues, the image we are presented reminds us strongly of "Memories of Murder". It's no big surprise then that Jung-ho, the pimp, ends up turning into the unintentional hero. His search for Min-ji starts out being a completely selfish venture, just because he can't afford to lose another girl. But bit by bit the audience is confronted with this man's conscience, which had been buried under a tough exterior.

Jung-ho is a difficult man to estimate. At least during the first hour. He remains an ambivalent character though, which adds to his depth and gives the audience the chance to engross themselves. Initially, it's not easy to identify with him. He forces Min-ji to take on a client even though she's sick and he cusses at every possible opportunity. On the other hand he's also concerned about his girls' safety. His career and his social circle stays firmly planted in the grey zone, however.
Yeong-min is the absolute opposite - it is made absolutely clear from the beginning what kind of monster he is and his motives (besides that of assumed impotence) are never really mentioned. This is something that could be judged overly simplistic. It would have been better if Yeong-min had retained at least a few facets because even though his character works as an empty villain, its shallowness is also one of the starkest weak points of the film.

On the acting side, Kim Yoon-seok has quite a bit to offer and seems to be on his way to filling Choi Min-sik's shoes with his physical effort and eagerness to perform. He's not quite there yet, but gives a great performance. All of the other performances are up to par, even if no one really stands out. Still, it would have been nice if one of the police officers at least had shown some color. On the technical side, "The Chaser" knows how to captivate an audience, despite its low budget! The dismal and filthy house, especially the killer's bathroom, are enough to give anyone goosebumps. Furthermore, director Na uses some inspiring dynamic camera angles and cuts, strategically placed at just the right time. Na never makes the mistake of ranking technical effects over the story, which is why his work feels uncomfortably realistic and brutal, as well as dark.

While there are a few extremely bloody scenes including a hammer used as a weapon, the director does not lose the chance to weave strands of extremely dark humor throughout the film. This works better than could be expected, building a strong contrast to the other, often uncompromisingly dark scenes. Especially one scene towards the end of the film reduces our reaction to a painful groan. We even begin to cherish that Jung-ho isn't the typically faultless hero because we'd just love to see Yeong-min receive his all too deserved punishment. The film is able to topple all of our traditional morals, thanks to the wonderful director.
It is quite a shame that "The Chaser" turns out to be a tad too long, incorporating a few bogus lengthy shots. The actions scenes or, as the case may be, the fighting scenes are a little too 'authentic', or in essence unaesthetic and a bit boring. The ending is also too typical for the movie's genre. Unfortunately "The Chaser" wasn't able to become the milestone it could have been because of all of this. Still, this thriller has enough peculiarities and successfully accomplished realism to fascinate us through to the end. What else could you wish for?

(Author: Manfred Selzer)

Translated by: R.S.
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