The Chaser (추격자, Na Hong-jin: 2008)
Jung-ho is a pimp with a problem – his girls seem to be running away. Struggling to maintain his ‘business’, he sends one of his remaining girls to see a client. Realising that there’s something not quite right about the situation and that this client may be involved in the disappearance of his girls, Jung-ho tries to use the situation to his advantage, but things don’t go according to plan…
The debut film from screenwriter and director Na Hong-jin The Chaser has been met with all sorts of critical acclaim, awards and box office success (second only to The Good, The Bad and The Weird at the Korean box-office for 2008) as well as the news that it surely must be good because it’s being remade by the people who made The Departed (the U.S. remake of Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs). Well, okay, so that last claim may well hold as little real interest with you as it does me (it must sell DVD’s though because it’s plastered all over the UK DVD cover) but one thing is certain – people have sat up and noticed this powerhouse little flick. And with good cause too – it’s one hell of a ride. And totally brutal.
Hitting its shadowy tone from the off, The Chaser introduces us to Jung-ho, an ex-cop who is now pimping escorts to anyone who can rent a room for an hour and pay his fees. He doesn’t seem a very nice chap. From here on though, Jung-ho’s night gets a lot worse as he gets an idea about where some of his girls – that have seemingly run away – have got to. If I’m being a little coy about what happens (and that brief synopsis at the top of the page isn’t much better), it’s because The Chaser is really not a film that you want to know very much about before you see it. With a refreshingly untraditional approach to its central premise and managing to mis-step the usual cop-bad guy relationship deftly, The Chaser plays against many of the typical serial killer movie conventions. It’s these kinds of choices which make it feel like we haven’t seen this before, and you won’t be sitting there thinking that you already know how it’s going to end.
The Chaser is a dark film in almost every sense – and not just because the tale unwinds at night. Most of the film is covered in shadows – to the point where some key scenes are played out in the daylight and feel intentionally disorientating. The excellently claustrophobic cinematography and minimal score can take the credit for the atmospherics – a sense of realism manages to give the film it’s creepy desperation. Equally, characterisation is played out from the shadows – Jung-ho is initially unlikeable but we’re forced to side with him as he seems to be doing the right thing. Most of the people he comes across – including the police – are equally painted in grey shades. This has the effect of keeping The Chaser in unknown territory – with the worry that literally anything could happen. It’s frightening to say that The Chaser is actually based on a true story – I’m guessing that this is just fairly loosely, although I haven’t looked into the case as I won’t be able to sleep. This on-screen version is harsh enough.
As important as the plot of The Chaser is (which I’m not revealing here, this is a ‘no spoiler’ review!) is the cast, every member of whom is excellent throughout. You couldn’t ask for a better actor than Kim Yun-seok (The Big Swindle) to front a film like this – as ex-cop Jung-ho he rolls from frustrated and annoyed to downright frantic, as the slow realisation of the true extent of the situation unfolds before him. Seeing as strong a character as Jung-ho being unwound before you really adds to the weight and energy of the film. Equally Ha Jung-woo (The Fox Family) is more than good enough to bounce off of Kim to good effect, and the likes of Seo Yeong-hee and young actress Kim Yoo-jeong round off the talent.
A dark, horrific thriller, The Chaser manages to get pretty much everything right – a good story, a brilliant cast and a bunch of filmmakers willing to live up to both. Although it’s actually not as unique a type of film as some of the hype surrounding it would have you believe – it’s the kind of project which you could imagine would have turned out fairly unremarkable given to a less passionate bunch of filmmakers – it’s still definitely one of the best and freshest dark thrillers in recent years. Na Hong-jin has more than marked himself out as one of those directors to watch.
추격자 (The Chaser)
Directed by Na Hong-jin
Produced by Kim Su-jin, Yun In-beom
Written by Na Hong-jin, Shinho Lee
Starring Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yeong-hee, Kim Yoo-jeong, Koo Bon-woong
The Chaser Image © Bidangil Pictures