Monday, September 28, 2009

Hong-jin Na's The Chaser (2008)

Hong-jin Na's The Chaser (2008) is a story about one man, Jung-ho (Yun-seok Kim), feeling the first pangs of guilt. Jung-ho is a police detective turned pimp and he just forked out a bunch of cash for some new ladies. His recently-purchased ladies are disappearing: at first, Jung-ho believes his ladies are running away, as he tells his shady creditor to whom he's in debt for the purchases. Two go missing and then a third. A client calls and asks for some company and there's only Mi-jin (Yeong-hie Seo) left. Mi-jin is sick at home and her seven-year-old daughter is playing nursemaid. Jung-ho could give a damn that she's sick and tells her to go to work. The cell-phone number from which the prospective client called is familiar: in fact, the last time any of his missing ladies were seen, it was with this client from this number. The cell phone belongs to Young-min Ji (Jung-woo Ha), and Jung-ho makes a seemingly logical deduction: this bastard is taking my girls and selling them. Jung-ho instructs Mi-jin to text him when she arrives at her client's home, but Young-min is not selling the girls. Mi-jin can't get a signal from her cell phone from Young-min's bathroom. She's a prisoner, and Jung-ho doesn't know where she is.
The Chaser is a well-crafted thriller that takes places over the course of primarily one evening. Beyond its excellent plot, the film is also a searing portrait of its main character, Jung-ho, and his nemesis, Young-min. Hong-jin Na shoots his film objectively in the modern style, producing a very slick-looking and intimate film with some disturbing scenes of violence, some over-the-top yet grounded humor, and fantastic drama. The plot of The Chaser and the character arcs are seamless. Jung-ho goes through three revelations as to the condition of his missing ladies: runaways, kidnap victims, and [insert your best guess here after I set the plot up for you]. His first two beliefs as to the ladies' condition are based on his material nature while the final one is based in his hidden humanity. Jung-ho looks and acts like a modern business man: slick-looking clothes, drives a Jaguar, and has a well-structured business: his assistant, whom Jung-ho calls "Meathead," solicits business cards all throughout the city and Jung-ho holds multiple cell phones for prospective client contact and close-monitoring of his ladies whereabouts and accounts. Since Jung-ho is hurting financially, because his ladies are missing, Jung-ho believes the problem is financial: someone is ripping him off. Jung-ho sees his ladies as cash-producers, not people. When one of his ladies gets assaulted by a john, Jung-ho takes the opportunity to beat the would-be client and take all of his cash: he's going to make some money off one of his ladies, one way or the other. It didn't matter that she could have been brutally beaten or had another mundane and innocuous transaction: the bottom line is the almighty dollar. This is, of course, Jung-ho's most glaring flaw, and the viewer watches The Chaser asking "is Jung-ho diligently searching for Mi-jin, because she's the last bankable lady in his stable or somewhere, during the course of the evening, does Jung-ho soften and look for Mi-jin out of remorse and feeling?"Young-min is a sick individual but he's slick. His operation is equal to Jung-ho's: well-structured and almost contingency-proof. Young-min knows how to play the system, as well. The police and the politicians are tied up for the night: the mayor of Seoul is making the rounds amongst the locals. An angry protester throws some feces his way. The police nab the "shit-thrower" but fail to prevent the embarrassment. Failing to efficiently take care of the Jung-ho/Young-min/Min-ji situation will make the police and its government appear amazingly inept. Watching Young-min interact over the course of The Chaser is extremely unassuming: it's only really towards the end of the film that the viewer is able to look backwards and see his motives in action.It's difficult to write about The Chaser, because I believe the viewer really needs to know little about it and just experience it. Hong-jin Na's film delivers unexpected twists and turns amongst the backdrop of a masterfully-executed visual style. The streets feel real, because The Chaser is filmed that way: the viewer is never outside of the action, as all the locations feel authentic. Na's compositions are equally organic: nothing in The Chaser feels showy. The lighting is perfect. The minimal use of music is effective, as it only accompanies a few intense scenes. The performances rival the plot for which is better, and in the end, I'll take both. The Chaser is one of the best thrillers that I've seen in a very long time. See it.


Mr.LargePackage said...

I wish I had four hands so I could give this review four thumbs up.

Mr.LargePackage said...

I almost forgot. And that is large and in charge.