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South Korea 2010

Thriller, Crime, Drama

Ryoo Seung-wan

Hwang Jeong-min
Ryoo Seung-beom
Yoo Hae-jin
Cheon Ho-jin
Ma Dong-seok
Woo Don-gi
Jo Yeong-jin
Jeong Man-sik
Kim Su-hyeon
Koo Bon-woong
Lee Sung-min
Kim Min-jae
Lee Hee-joon
Oh Jeong-se
Ko Seo-hee
Song Sae-byeok

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The Unjust

Story: Choi Cheol-gi (Hwang Jeong-min) is a police detective and quite successful in his field. His determined personality and the fact that his brother-in-law has accepted a bribe from the morgul Jang (Yoo Hae-jin), who just happens to be the direct rival of Kim Hoi-jang (Jo Yeong-jin), a man who Choi has recently put behind bars, calls the internal affairs department into action instead of Choi finally getting his long deserved promotion. Choi's supervisor makes him an offer, however. For months a child murderer is walking around free and the media has found such a liking to the case that the president himself demands some results. In fact, the police has already found the assumed culprit, but in the heat of the moment he got shot and therefore can't serve as material being fed to the media. Choi is supposed to make the body disappear and find a scapegoat. Should he succeed the case against him would be dropped and he even would get his promotion. Nonetheless, things get more complicated than they already are. Prosecutor Joo Yang (Ryoo Seung-beom) starts his own investigation against Choi as he is getting quite some bribe from morgul Kim, whom the police detective got into prison. Choi ends up in a maelstrom of corruption and betrayal...

Review: Ryoo Seung-wan is one of the most versatile and talented Korean directors out there. His films may not be to everyone's taste, but aside from the critically highly acclaimed "Crying Fist" he also made the very entertaining and commercial "Arahan". That means that Ryoo always tries out something new and proves his talent by doing so. As in his debut work "Die Bad" or "City of Violence" this is once more a gangster thriller that takes a lot out of the book of Hong Kong's 80's and 90's flicks. What is very eye-catching, though, is that the director is now shifting his focus to casting a glance on the structures of society from a more distant perspective and by that manages to capture a more differentiated and complex picture. For most part this is thanks to the cleverly devised script by Park Hoon-jung ("I Saw the Devil"). "The Unjust" is therefore not only another entry into the thriller genre, but also depicts a cynic and evil glance at society.

However, before the film can display its true strengths it struggles with some problems. At first it's difficult to follow the story and to make out which person is linked to who in what way. Director Ryoo may be doing his best but there are just too many characters and facts the viewer is confronted with at once. Still, those who keep at it will be rewarded later on as with the story's progression the puzzle becomes more and more complete. Here, the fact that the search for the murderer is actually just secondary proves disadvantageous concerning the tension of the movie. Yet, it is also a brave step you have to give the director some credit for. "The Unjust" is simply revolving around more than just the search for a killer. This almost bestows something epic upon the film. Unfortunately, this also means that there is no chase after the killer and at the latest after the second half of the movie this leads to boredom.

Responsible for the audience's decreasing interest in the events on screen are the characters who are all too tainted to serve as sympathy figures. Choi and Yoo may seem to be taken right out of life at any point with their pecularities, character flaws (and they have a lot of them) and problems. It's only that every one acts so selfish in the movie, as do the supporting characters, that we can never root for any one of them. The director's brother, Seung-beom ("Arahan", "Crying Fist"), plays the prosecutor with the necessary rough edges and at some points there is even a lot to laugh about as "The Unjust" has quite some black humor to it, too. Hwang Jeong-min ("You are my Sunshine", "Black House") is just the right one for the role of the police detective whose inner life consists of shades of grey but who despite all the bad things he does still has a guilty conscience because of it. Especially the more dramatic scenes he knows how to handle well.

All the time I had some deja-vu until I realized that the two lead actors were already enemies in "Bloody Tie" which had to struggle with similar problems as this film. "The Unjust" fails to create tension as well and despite its polished look and the every now and then forced used of the soundtrack the tension gets lost somewhere. Only during the last third the lengthy introduction of characters and relationships starts to pay off. The different parties don't have any skirmishes on the battlefield anymore as in former works of the director but instead play a strategically sophisticated game of chess. Towards the end everything falls into place just right and this is what can be quite concilatory concerning all of the movie's flaws. Cheol-gi is a tragic hero, that's absolutely clear to us right from the start, but towards the end we actually hope that he might manage to do the right thing. However, you shouldn't underestimate the bad karma that he accumulated over time...

The characters that stand in the focus of "The Unjust" reflect the Korean society with a lot of details. If you want to succeed in something you cannot consider the feelings of others. It is important who you know. Whether that person does some shady business or not isn't important at all as long as he has power. Those who want power have to slave away and when they have more pull themselves they can make others work like dogs. Only this way the wheels of Korean society keep turning studiously. The "little man" is sacrificed but how should that be of any interest to those in power? After all they had to check their conscience at the door. This truth is wrapped up by Ryoo Seung-wan in an interesting thriller that can score with a lot of cynism and some sardonic humor, too. Despite the already mentioned flaws and the fact that "The Unjust" is too lengthy with its 119 minutes running time the movie remains an almost profound thriller that still deserves to be recommended.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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