Thanks to the fine folks at the upcoming Philadelphia Film Festival/Cinefest 09 we’re going to be running a ton of early reviews from their Danger After Dark program, as well as some other of their genre films. For tickets and schedule information check out their official site.
Jung-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) is a former detective, a tough and dirty bastard who was fired from his job and decided to earn a living by becoming a pimp. But he’s got serious money problems as more and more of his girls are leaving without notice and without paying off their debts to him. He’s pissed, and thinks that they’re either skipping town or that another pimp is stealing them.
One night a customer (Ha Jeong-woo) calls for a girl and Jung-ho sends out Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hee), one of his better prostitutes, even though she’s at home sick with a cold watching her young daughter. It’s not until she’s already out with the John that Jung-ho realizes that the guy’s cellphone number pops up in his records related to each of the missing girls. It was the last client each of them went to before disappearing, in fact. Jung-ho calls her and tells her to memorize the guy’s address and text it over to him when she gets a chance, because he’s not going to let another girl be taken from him. Things turn out to be much worse than he feared, though. The guy’s not stealing his women… he’s killing them.
Driving around looking for Mi-jin after she doesn’t send him a message immediately, Jung-ho dents another car in an alleyway. While trying to pay the other driver off for the damages he realizes that the guy is acting weird, and that his shirt is covered in blood. He calls the number from his records and the guy’s phone starts ringing, and the guy takes off running off down the streets. Jung-ho eventually catches him and beats the shit out of him. He handcuffs him and takes him back to his car, where a crowd of people have gathered to figure out what these abandonded cars are doing tying up traffic.
Unluckily for Jung-ho, there are real cops there as well- and they take them both in. At the police station the suspect confesses to a number of murders, and says that the girl might still be alive. But there’s no evidence, and the cops can only hold him for 12 hours.
Jung-ho takes to the streets to find out where she is.
Jung-ho is your classic antihero. He only looks out for himself, the typical postering alpha male. At the beginning of the film we see him slapping around a John who beat on one of his girls before settling on a pile of cash for his troubles… which he doesn’t share with the beaten prostitute. No, he’s not a very nice guy. It’s only till he realizes what his actions have done- possibly gotten Mi-jin killed and leaving her child all alone in the world- that he starts to try and change things.
He’s also the only one who can do it since the cops are presented as stereotypical bumbling idiots here. They frequently make decisions that will make you want to yell at the screen, and while it may seem unrealistic (or just hugely critical of the South Korean police department) it’s excellent at getting you frustrated and putting all your faith in Jung-ho’s character to get things done.
Of course, the only way he knows how to make things right is through violence. The most fascinating thing about the film is how action-oriented it is- it ain’t called The Chaser for nothing. There are a ton of fights and chases and it’s interesting to see such a fast-paced detective story. But there are scenes of intense violence, as well. The killer likes to use a hammer and chisel to take out his victims, and you can bet on a few moments that will make even the most hardened of you squirm a bit. If the movie sounds a bit like torture porn never mind that- while there are some incredibly bloody scenes it’s more of an action thriller than anything, emphasis on action. The violence is horrific but at the same time strangely poetic and watchable.
It doesn’t hurt that Kim Yoon-seok is a tremendous actor. As the pimp he’s a scumbag but an innately watchable one, with a great and dark sense of humo. He also has a convincing and threatening physical presence here that he doesn’t hesitate to use. Ha Jeong-woo is a great contrast to him as the killer, a really terrifying character that feels very authentic. You ever see an interview with a real serial killer and note the way they just talk about their crimes as if they were nothing important, or at the very worst, somewhat funny? This is that kind of guy. It’s chilling. The Chaser actually shares a lot in common with American serial killer films, but with a key difference. Whereas over here usually the protagonist gets corrupted by the madman from talking with him and trying to peer into his mind, in The Chaser he is tainted by by fighting with him, by physically turning into him. It’s an interesting change of pace and makes for a movie that hits on a ton of levels- it’s entertaining, funny, horrific, touching, and frequently just plain badass all at once.
It really is a fantastic film, and there’s a reason that it was such a big hit in South Korea last year. Warner Bros bought the rights to an American remake and have a couple of people who worked on The Departed interested in it (including possibly DiCaprio as the lead) but as with that film there’s no way it will hold up to the original. A must for fans of serial killer films that are looking for something a little different.
9 out of 10