Modern society have always spawned some ruthless serial killers and Asian countries such as South Korea is no different. "THE CHASER" (aka. Chugyeogja, 2008) is a film based on true events, and has won numerous awards in its native land. The film is a box-office success all over Asia, and it is no surprise that Warner brothers (U.S.) with Asian "remake king" Roy Lee had already bought the remake rights to the film. Directed by newcomer Hong-Jin Na, the film is part crime thriller and part psychological drama.
A cop turned pimp named Jung-Ho (Yun Seok Kim, the fantastic "Tazza the High-Rollers") is in a financial bind. He runs a door-to door masseuse company and he had lost a lot of money when some of his top call girls started running out on him after he had given them financial support--or so he believes. After a "client" rejects some of his other girls, he sends Mi-jin, who also has a daughter, (beauteous Seo Yeong-Hie) to attend to the needs of client # 4885. Being a former cop, Jung-Ho connects the dots and concludes that his girls started disappearing after meeting with this client; he assumes that he is a rival flesh trader and informs Mi-jin that she needs to text him upon arrival on # 4885's home. When Mi-jin herself fails to report and disappears, Jung-Ho is caught in a situation that he must find the truth about this client--named Young-Min Ji (Jung Woo-Ha); who for whatever reason confesses that he had killed 12 people to the police. But where is Mi-jin? Jung-Ho is becomes obsessed in making his own investigations.
The film unravels as a cat and mouse game, and rather than having it between the police and the killer, the game is played by two very unlikable characters. Jung-Ho is an antihero and Young-Min is a psychotic killer, that detail is revealed early on in the film. What makes the film enthralling is the fact that the script effectively takes its time and fleshes out the two main characters. The film focuses on the heart of the investigation by the police and Jung-Ho and the proceedings prove quite riveting. The film is based on a true event and I am certain that certain elements have been added to make it more exciting, but since the film is based on actual case files, I think it would be safe to assume that it is close to the real story.
"The Chaser" is full of effective twists and turns. The film is full of edge of your seat thrills, pulse-pounding action, immersive characters and there are also some touches of black humor to help the film's 2 hour running time. The incident occurred when the Seoul mayor had been assaulted by an angry mob in a local marketplace, so expect the cops being torn between political pressure and the sense of urgency to find the evidence. The police wants to get Young-Ji behind bars and Jung-Ho is on the race against time to find Mi-jin--dead or alive. Mi-jin's daughter also proves an effective plot element as you will root for Jung-Ho with just one look at this child.
The film has a finely-honed cast; Yun Seok Kim and Jung Woo-Ha does share dynamic chemistry even though they're hardly together in one scene. The killer is definitely your usual bad guy but what made his character compelling is how the film slowly unravels his motivations and the antagonist proves every bit as psychotic as other iconic serial murderers. Psychopaths have no knowledge of right or wrong, decent or indecent. Ji-Young Min is imbalanced and the viewer will know this from the start, what happens next is the film's main strength as it delves into his twisted mind.
Asian films are rather uninhibited when it comes to violence against women and this film displays a graphic amount of this element. The film does have its share of bloody and brutal scenes, the torture and mental anguish experienced by Mi-jin will be felt by the viewer. While we have definitely seen more graphic sequences especially in films by Takashi Miike, director Na came close, but he also exhibited some restraint in these scenes. Korean actress Seo Yeong-Hie does an outstanding job however limited her screen time may be. The film is quite terrifying and disturbing, and also very sad, the bleakness in its premise is portrayed throughout--but it also contains a certain warmth when you consider everything.
I have done my best to avoid giving spoilers except for giving some hints on the film's characters and what exactly you are in for. The film has an abundance of twists and turns, and you'll have to experience it to truly enjoy the film. Complemented by the awesome acting skills of the two leads, (most especially Yun-Seok Kim) and a very empathetic victim, the film is gripping. What I really liked about "The Chaser" is that it pulled no stops in displaying the ineptitude of the local police force and the arrogance of authority figures; the general public had been shortchanged as this film would portray. This incident had angered a lot of the Korean people and I am certain that you would feel the same way I did.
"The Chaser" is a riveting, entertaining experience and well worth the expensive price tag of the region-3 Korean release. The only fault I could find is that some may think it is overlong but its 2 hour run time will go by very quickly. You just have to see it before Hollywood remakes this film and becomes butchered by American filmmakers, Asian remakes very seldom works.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [4 ½ Stars]
Note: There has been talk that the U.S. remake has Leonardo DiCaprio in mind--hopefully he'll play the killer? It is planned to begin production sometime late next year.
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