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The Chaser (추격자)

June 1, 2011

Some minor spoilers here.

Released in 2008 and marking the directorial debut of Korean filmmaker Na Hong-jin, The Chaser is a Korean crime thriller loosely based on the real-life case surrounding notorious Korean serial killer Yoo Young-cheol. The film enjoyed considerable commercial and critical success in the domestic Korean market and earned numerous awards for the cast and crew involved. Although it starts with a brilliant and solid opening act that is unflinching and gripping, the feature descends into a frustrating affair with a credibility-stretching plot that limps toward a crudely manipulative climax.

Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) is an ex-cop turned perpetually pissed-off pimp who seems to have lost a couple of call girls he “owns”. He suspects a rival pimp is taking his girls and selling them on and, discovering a phone number clue that leads him to the culprit, he soon apprehends the shifty and sinister Young-min (Ha Jeong-woo). However, there is a lot more to Young-min’s nocturnal activities than Joong-ho initially suspects and the last girl dispatched to one of his calls, Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hee), has also gone missing. With Young-min in custody spinning bizarre tales to a largely indifferent police force and the possibility of Mi-jin still being alive, Joong-ho has only 12 hours to find the missing girl before the police release their suspect for lack of evidence.

It delivers on the title at least.

After a well-crafted and deftly executed opening act, in which we are introduced to the principle characters and Joong-ho tracks down Young-min, The Chaser shifts down gears considerably and has to rely on a poorly exaggerated premise; that the Korean police department is so incredibly incompetent that they would piss about with an obviously maniacal serial killer in their custody for the better part of an entire day and yet be clueless and unable to properly uncover his crimes. The film plays for the most part as a long, satirical indictment of the cops and criminal justice system of Korea, albeit a satire entirely devoid of laughs. The reason for this storytelling choice would appear to spring from real details surrounding the case of Korean serial killer Yoo Young-cheol, whose notorious exploits served as the main inspiration for the film. Yoo was apprehended twice by police on charges unrelated to his string of murders only to be released by them in the first instance and to escape their custody the next. In both instances, more rigorous police procedures would have saved lives. Unfortunately this controversy is poorly realized onscreen, being rendered with clumsy hyperbole that reduces The Chaser to a laborious viewing experience. It’s an admirable gambit to circumvent genre conventions and have the killer identified and captured early but a more realistic procedural crime drama may have avoided the irritating flaws herein. A subtler approach, more closely adhering to the real circumstances of Yoo Young-cheol’s killings could have resulted in a dark and disturbing film that nonetheless still managed to critique police bureaucracy whilst remaining compelling viewing.

 

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