The Chaser

Directed by Na Hong-jin

South Korea; 2008

125 min.

Starring Kin Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, and Seo Yeong-hye

In Short: Na Hong-jin’s debut film is yet another film continuing South Korea’s recent dominance of the crime thriller genre. With a ticking-clock narrative and very clearly defined characters, it is almost impossible to not be emotionally affected by this film in some way, shape or form. Not surprisingly, an American remake starring Leonardo DiCaprio is in the works.

Review: I picked up the Korean edition of The Chaser on DVD over a year-and-a-half ago, before it had even gotten its distribution rights for its limited release in the US. I had already been riding high on the Korean wave for at least two years at that point, and figured I would watch the film with my friends right away, as the overwhelmingly positive reviews had me excited for it. Somehow I managed to put off watching it until two days ago, and now I’m kicking myself for it.

A pimp named Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok) calls one of his workers, a single mother named Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hey), out to work late one night, despite her being very ill. When she finally relents and goes out to a customer, Joong-ho recognizes the number as a potentially dangerous customer who he believes is selling his women into slavery in other countries. If you’re familiar with Korean cinema, you know that the truth is going to be a bit worse than what Joong-ho believes.

The Chaser reminds me particularly of two of South Korea’s most acclaimed films, Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy. I can’t say that I liked it as much as the former, and though it comes a bit closer to the latter, but it adds a new element into the mix: throughout the entire hunting down of the criminal, we know how all the major characters play into the scenario, what they are doing, and where they are. What we don’t know is the characters outside the three will affect the case.

It is this last part which makes The Chaser elicit strong emotions. Alternately: anger, frustration, guilt, and at times, hope. Despite being a pimp, Joong-ho becomes an easily sympathetic character through the lengths he goes to rescue Mi-jin and make sure justice is served to Young-min (the customer he doesn’t trust, played by Ha Jung-woo). Ultimately, it cannot be forgotten that it’s Joong-ho’s fault from the very beginning that Mi-jin is in trouble, though there are two other characters in particular that deserve almost as much blame for unfortunate events which complicate the process.

The entire film takes place in about a day’s time, which likely contains more hardships than most people would ever want to endure in their entire life, yet given the urgency and difficulty of the matter at hand, the film never ceases to have a believable diegesis.

The Chaser lacks Memories of Murder’s sharply pointed societal satire and Oldboy‘s dark humor and stylistic excess, but its pervasively hopeless mood makes the film very much worthy of an additional viewing, even for those who think they’re just getting more of the same. While most Koreans see the melodrama as being their most nationally beloved cinematic tradition, this debut film from Na Hong-jin solidifies the crime thriller as their greatest asset in the international playing field.

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About Adam DiPiazza
I love Peach Snapple.

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