Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

It does seem amazing to me that South Korean director Hong-jin Na’s movie ‘The Chaser’ was one of the highest grossing movies in the director’s native country for 2008. Not that ‘The Chaser’ isn’t any good because it is one helluva movie, but hailing from the states where top movies consist of Johnny Depp in heavy eye shadow, Tyler Perry wearing a frosted wig and rehashes of a dude in hockey mask eviscerating teenagers, I can’t ever see a movie like ‘The Chaser’ acquiring a mass audience here. For starters the films protagonist is a pimp, and not some pleasant pimp with a heart of gold. The female lead is a whore and in a sense the movies antagonist is the completely inept South Korean police force. Still this was number one with a bullet in South Korea.

Our film starts with a prostitute cruising the streets of Seoul looking for a particular client. She meets up with him and is never seen again. Pimpin’ apparently isn’t easy as this girls procurer Joong-ho (Kim yun-Seok) has assumed that this girl has run away as a couple of girls before her had done, considering that he has found the car he lent the girl abandoned in an alley somewhere. Adding to his woes Joong-ho is also in hock to some unsavory characters for a boatload of loot, and with his stable of girls running low he finds himself in a bit of a pickle.

Not being the most caring cat around Joong-ho rousts Mi-kin (Seo-yeong Hie) out of her flu ridden sick bed to take a call, only to have her turn up missing as well. The man who has taken Mi-kin and has her hog-tied in his bathroom on the verge of hammering a chisel through his brain is serial killer Young-min (Ha-jung Woo) and this is where ‘The Chaser’ deviates from the norm in that our uncaring pimp, who by the by used to be an ex-cop, manages to track down Young-min, capture him with both of them ending up in police custody. Young-min even confesses to his crimes which has me thinking, considering we’ve caught the bad guy in the movies first twenty or so minutes, what else is there left to do in this thing?

Plenty as it would turn out because Mi-kin is still badly injured, but alive, hog-tied on our brutal serial killers bathroom floor. Joong-ho, who at first believed that Young-min was simply trafficking his girls now knows the truth about the serial killer and is desperately trying to find out where Mi-kin might be. He has also stumbled upon Mi-kin’s seven year old daughter and is now reluctantly dragging her around from place to place while searching for her mother. Plus there’s a ticking clock that we must pay attention to because apparently South Korean laws have some rather odd inconsistencies to them. So despite the fact that Young-min has confessed to the crimes, replete with knowledge that only the killer would know, if they don’t find some more evidence within twelve hours they have to let him go. This, of course, would allow him to finish off the pretty prostitute he was working on before he was so rudely interrupted by a couple of nosy neighbors who were looking for their dog, which is why he ran into the unsavory Joong-ho in the first place.

I’ve said it before but I have absolutely no problem repeating myself over and over again, and one more time again, and that is with these movies coming out of South Korea you really have no idea how they are going to end. Is he going to save the girl? Is he going to catch this dude and will our hero even survive? If this were an American film the answer to all three of those questions, generally speaking, is yes. The job of that filmmaker is to find a way to thrill and entertain us in between what we already understand what’s going to happen. Not here my friends and quite honestly it’s a little unsettling since this takes us out of our comfort zone. Of course none of this means that ‘The Chaser’ is any good but just that it does deviate from we here in the states are used to.

Fortunately for us ‘The Chaser’ is quite good. Director Na has a few things working in his favor in this production, with the first being some great performances by his actors. Kim-yun Seok’s character is fairly reprehensible as the movie begins but gradually and believably over time, due to external influences that have been cleverly integrated within the script he does change, and you will be hard pressed to find a more hateful character that you would wish a horrible end for than Ha-jung Woo’s serial killing Young-min. Combine these performances with the typical high production values that we see in South Korean films and mated to a script that consistently keeps you off balance and you are rewarded with a fairly unique and satisfying movie watching experience.

There were times when the movie seemed a little on the extreme and outlandish side when presenting certain elements such as the complete ineptitude of the Korean cops, but then we are told this is based loosely on a true story so maybe not. The films conclusion, though thrilling in its presentation, was a tiny bit over melodramatic and also represented a fairly solid turn to convention for a movie that was pretty darned unconventional up until that point.

Those slight deviances aside ‘The Chaser’ was still one damn good movie that builds slowly at the start and steadily increases its speed until its moving like lightning by the time it ends. A worthy film for thriller for crime movie lovers everywhere.

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