|Chugyeogja 2008 South Korea The Chaser|
There's a fight scene early on where our protagonist, an ex-detective gone bad turned pimp, is beating the crap out of some guy he thinks has kidnapped and sold some of his girls. A long uphill foot chase precedes the brawl so both combatants are extremely winded when the fighting begins—punches don't land and there's a girly incompetence to the whole thing, which is to say, it's realistic. After finally landing a few punches that subdue his opponent momentarily, the pimp gets up and starts kicking him in disgust. He's very angry, still a bit winded and out of control. One of his kicks only grazes its target causing him to lose his balance and fall on his butt, and because of momentum he begins to roll and his feet fly up in the air. It seems funny, but it's not. You have to sneak in your chuckle as he gets up and continues kicking the guy. When he's finally pummeled his adversary into unconsciousness, he uses his foot to roll him onto his side so he can get to the wallet in his back pocket and ID him. He attempts to sit on him, not to keep him down, but because he's bone tired from all the fighting. He doesn't land squarely which causes the bad guy to shift a bit, and consequently he lands on his butt again. It seems funny but it's not.
After the fight scene both men are brought to the police station for questioning. Because the pimp is an ex-detective with a reputation, the cops initially sympathize with the other guy, thinking the pimp over-reacted—not to mention the causal fender-bender that brought the two men together in the first place. The pimp doesn't know that the other guy just took a hammer and chisel to the head of the girl he is trying to get back, he thinks she's just freshly been sold, making his sense of urgency misplaced, where it remains throughout most of the film. It's kind of awkward for the police to find much urgency in one pimp accusing another of stealing one of his girls. The bad guy insists he didn't sell the girl and then mumbles under his breathe "I killed her", and confesses in great detail how he killed her and several other girls. The pimp screams at the cops, "Can't you see he's just pretending to be crazy now?"
And so it goes. We know there's been killing going on and we know who's been doing it from very early on in the film but it manages to remain suspenseful throughout. The Chaser is a gripping thriller from the beginning until a few minutes from the end. The two main characters are portrayed with impeccable nuance. It's Yun-seok Kim's performance as the bewildered pimp that takes this film to great heights. There are so many things that don't go the way he wants them to, like people hanging up on him when he's talking to them on the phone, a little girl who startles him and asks too many smart questions, the cops can't do anything right; and every time, his subdued response of confused disbelief made me laugh. He brings a Kang-ho Song-ish melancholy humor to the film, (I can't think of an American actor to compare him to), while Jung-woo Ha as the impotent serial killer is so normal and unmoved it's creepy.
There are a handful of groan out loud plot moves in The Chaser, but so what. There are also more than a handful of plot moves this film doesn't do, moves that most people will be guessing it will do, that it more than makes up for it. This is a film I know I'll watch again just for the performance of it. The plot won't matter. It's that good.
Summary: An ex-policeman-turned-street-smart pimp attempts to capture the elusive serial killer who has been preying on his girls in this stylish South Koran thriller from first-time feature filmmaker Na Hong-jin. Jung-ho is a former cop who now operates on the other side of the law. When his girls start disappearing without clearing their debts, Jung-ho rightly begins to suspect foul play. Shortly thereafter, Jung-ho receives a call for a girl and dispatches Mi-jin -- recognizing all too late that his latest customer's telephone number exactly matches that of the man who hired the last prostitute that went missing. His detective's instincts now kicking into full gear, Jung-ho races desperately through the streets in search of Mi-jin. After denting a car in a dark ally, the eagle-eyed pimp notices that the driver of the car he collided with is wearing a blood-spattered shirt. Jung-ho gives chase, eventually catching the man and discovering that his name is Young-min. Later, at the police station, Young-min admits that he is indeed the killer that police have been searching for, and that Mi-jin is quite possibly still alive. Though the police aren't convinced that there is any hope for Mi-jin, given the number of corpses popping up around town as of late, Jung-ho believes that Young-min is telling the truth. The law states that the police can only hold the suspected serial killer for 12 hours, but is that enough time for Jung-ho to rescue Mi-jin and prove Young-min's guilt?