Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fantasia 2009: The Chaser

This is the second film I saw at Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival. If you go see this film without knowing that much, be prepared for the surprise of your life. In fact, whether you like this director's brutal style or not, Na Hong-jin is a name to keep in mind in the repertoire for extreme cinema. Of course, The Chaser is certainly not the best film from that repertoire, but it sure has the ability to maintain our interest for the film.

Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok) is a former policeman who got fired for accepting a bribe once. In order to earn his bread, he works as a pimp. However, he notices that many of his girls disappeared one after another. By looking into his books, Joong-ho notices that all of his prostitutes who vanished were called by a customer whose cell phone number ends by 4885. Therefore, he concludes that this customer sold his prostitutes to some competitors.

Obviously, since he's short on prostitutes, Jung-ho decides to send Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hie) - even though she's sick - after the "4885" customer called. In order to protect Mi-jin, Jung-ho devises a plan. According to this plan, once she's at the customer's house, she must pretend to go take a shower and text him the customer's address. Thus, the question is: will Jung-ho manages to protect Mi-jin now that he knows that the "4885" customer is a serial killer at large?

Did you think that films made by Park Chan-wook and John Woo, just to name a few, are the most violent Asian films you've ever seen? Well, believe me, this one goes further than what you've seen so far. However, at some point, the film's violence becomes extremely unbearable. Seriously, did we really have to see how a character (that I will not name) gets the hell beaten of [insert the pronoun of your choice]? After all, the mere suggestion of violence could have gotten the job done.

Obviously, if we leave aside this detail, The Chaser is a fairly good - and unusual - thriller that will sure keep you on your seat. First of all, the film builds its momentum through the strange combination of tension (Jung-ho's attempt to find Mi-jin and get her out of the serial killer's clutches) and black humour (i.e. Seoul's police department standing in Jung-ho's way). This goes without saying that even though the pace is broken by a sub-plot involving Seoul's mayor being badly protected by police officers against some protesters, The Chaser remains an effective thriller. Its key to its success is its ability to entertain you and keep you frustrated every time the serial killer gets ahead of Jung-ho and the police. All in all, is there some hope that Jung-ho will get the serial killer? Well, watch and see it for yourselves.

Finally, The Chaser is far to be a thriller for everyone because of the violence. However, if you don't mind about: 1) the nonexistence of the line between good guys and villains; 2) the fact that the "hero" is depicted as a scumbag at the beginning (although he evolves as a hero who does his best to protect people he needs). Besides, the film is well served by the cast's convincing performance.

Rating: 3.5/5

Origin:South Korea (2008)
Length:125 minutes
Genre:Crime thriller
Screenplay:Hong Won-chan, Lee Shinho and Na Hong-jin
Director:Na Hong-jin
Starring:Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo and Seo Yeong-hie

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