Chugyeogja (The Chaser)

Chugyeogja (The Chaser) (2008): South Korea – directed by Hong-jin Na

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, gore, language, sexual content

Note: This review was initially written in February, 2009, for 24Framespersecond.  The film is now getting a release (of sorts) in the United States.

There’s a dirty ex-detective (Yun-seok Kim) who has turned to pimping out girls to make the big bucks.  He still has some tenuous connections with the force, but those are waning.  There’s a sidekick he calls Idiot that does his dirty work, like jam topless pictures of his girls in the windows of every car on the street.  Then there’s the girl of his that he sends on a job, even though she’s quite sick with the flu.  He loses touch with her and starts becoming paranoid that someone is selling his girls, as she’s the third he’s lost.

Things get a little more complicated after that, as there’s a serial killer targeting young women.  The police are involved with a man who threw feces at the mayor, and jump at the chance to switch the media focus to catching the serial killer.  Much more than this would be detrimental to spoil: the film kept my attention for the entire two hours and I wouldn’t want to ruin the experience for anyone.

The Chaser is South Korean in the best possible ways.  The film crosses a plethora of genres, though not to the extent of other exports like The Host.  There’s the buddy-cop aspect, the Leon the Professional aspect of a little girl and a hard criminal.  There’s a heart wrenching family story.  And then there’s the criminal investigation, which takes a back seat to the revenge story of the dirty ex-detective.

The film balances all of these wonderfully.  The ex-detective is not entirely evil, but he doesn’t play the hit-man with the heart of gold we’ve seen so many times before.  In fact, because the movie is South Korean, it has no compulsion to give American audiences what they expect.  I was aware of this watching the film, and grew quite anxious at parts knowing the director, Hong-jin Na, would not necessarily ensure that everything works out pleasantly.

In fact, the movie is not pleasant.  It is bloody and brutal at times, but always in service to the story and the film.  It is not exploitative or sexy, neither in the violence nor in dealing with the prostitutes.  For these reasons I would be a little hesitant to suggest it to people with weak stomachs, those who can only watch happy movies, and those looking for excessive violence for the sake of violence.

The production is competent, surprising given that this is Na’s feature film debut.  The directing and camera work serve the story so well that they blend into the background.  This is not to say that the film is poorly directed; on the contrary, there are some great shots to rival the work of Chan-wook Park.  The film is atmospheric, with rain that suffocates and muddles the action perfectly.  The acting is sound and understated.  There are moments of quietness that I appreciated, like in some of John Woo’s Hong Kong action films.  There is nothing too flashy, no over-the-top directing or acting.  Everything fits in its place.

The story is complete and almost entirely plausible (at least for a movie), the characters are interesting, and the action is exciting.  The Chaser is dark and brooding, and about the only American film that is slightly similar is Se7en.  Even so, The Chaser has a different feel to it, one distinctly not American.  I enjoyed it greatly and am glad for the wider release it is receiving.

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