Korean films always carry a certain theme even when they are making a film about cops and robbers. They always seem to have the ability to create interesting characters that can easily be related to. Director Lee Yeon-Woo’s “Running Turtle” is another such film that has the themes of family, and can be seen from both viewpoints of the cop and the fugitive.
The screenplay also written by Lee Yeon-Woo brings us the character of Jo Pil-Sung (Kim Yoon-Seok, The Thieves), an idle cop whose aspirations come from lottery scratchers. His family struggles day by day that his wife (Kyeon Miri) needs to both run a manhwa shop and make socks. When Pil-Sung gets suspended because of an incident with a local pimp, he hatches a scheme to bet 300,000 Won ($ 3,000) on a bullfight. His gamble pays off he wins big much to his relief. But when a famous fugitive named Song Gi-Tae (Jun Kyung-Ho, Gangster High) steals his winnings from his bookie, Pil-Sung becomes heavily obsessed in bringing in Song and collect the reward money ($ 100,000) as well as redeeming his reputation to both his family and colleagues.
The core plot of the film is very simple, and yet the way the plot is developed along with its characters prove rather strong to engage its viewer. I liked the way the script had created a protagonist that is indeed flawed and unlikable in many ways. Yet, the more you get to know Pil-Sung, he grows on you, as he may have good intentions, his methods often prove to be a little too unorthodox that they get bungled quite a bit. Kim Yoon-Seok proves to be a very capable lead, and his performance actually manages to dictate the film’s flow and momentum. Jun Kyung-Ho did feel a little out of his element, as he looked a little too boyish and scrawny to pull off a bad ass character such as Gi-Tae. Gi-Tae is a fugitive, but he does seem to have his own sense of honor. He cares for certain things and this was brought forth with Sunwoo Sun who plays his girlfriend. I guess the script wanted to make the Gi-tae character feel like an enigma, as the viewer is left to ask how and why he does the things he does. I guess Gi-Tae is a thief but he is far from being a murderer.
The way the plot is developed is smooth, as I did not see any holes at all. Sure, the plot is easy enough to develop and much of it relied on the protagonist’s “cop hunch“. The way it transitions from scene to scene is easy to follow, it feels natural as the supporting characters give some nice touches to the screenplay. This is a character-driven plot after all, the twists and turns may feel rather easy but the way they were developed into the film became credible. I loved the character of detective Jo’s wife, (played marvelously by Kyeon Miri) as she portrayed her role as the lovable ‘nagger’, with a lot of spunk and heart into her role. The writing also made several moves to keep it grounded and balanced. There was a lot of subtle dry humor in the film, but when it came time to get serious, it became serious. Pil-Sung’s colleagues have their own sense of brotherhood, and even his gambling buddies gave some more needed lightness in the script.
One thing I did find a little wanting was the way that the relationship between Gi-Tae and his girlfriend, Gyung-ju (Sunwoo Sun) feels a little underwritten as the roots of their relationship wasn’t well defined. There was a subtle commentary as to how society sometimes views criminals and how the media glorifies such people. Gi-Tae also has a crazy fan named Jae-Suk (Choi Kwon) who manages to give the script some intricacies to its narrative. I liked the way he was introduced into the mix, even when the feds (in this case the Korean FBI) felt like staples of every other cop character.
“Running Turtle” may not be a perfect film, as it felt a little too simple and lacked major ambition in the screenplay. But the flow and the development of the plot was very solid with its list of great characters that it really felt natural. It is a good comedy-drama around cops and robbers, with nice touches of realistic action sequences (this is an area where the direction can improve on) that I found it really fun to watch. Korean filmmakers always had a knack for the drama. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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