Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) is a man with a complicated past, and one he has attempted to leave behind after defecting from North Korea to the South of that divided land. He used to be one of the North's top agents, a veritable killing machine of espionage, but all his elite training has gone to waste now he prefers to work as a driver for a company director, no matter how much the Southern authorities wonder if they could harness his abilities. This means he is treated with some suspicion, so when it comes to light that he lost his wife and child in a state-sponsored shooting, and could be interested in vengeance, it's a matter of time before Ji gets into further hot water and must run...
Gong Yoo became better known to Western audiences for the worldwide hit zombie flick Train to Busan, but although his filmography was not huge, action fans who preferred the Eastern variety of the genre would have been aware of his work in The Suspect, where he boasted of doing most of his stunts in an extremely stunt-packed production, including a jump from a bridge that could have killed him had it gone wrong. There was no doubting his dedication to his craft, at least, and that is enough to earn a star plenty of respect, which was what happened to Gong, though while he was undoubtedly the centre of attention here, it was not necessarily a perfect picture.
For one thing, The Suspect tended to overdo it, both in those action setpieces and in the drama; so intent was director Won Shin-yeon on giving the audience a five course meal of a movie, that you would have been forgiven for wondering when it was going to get to the point by the time it was reaching the two hour mark with more to come. He could plainly assemble his kinetic sequences with aplomb, but there was a problem when he chose to imitate Paul Greengrass's stylings on his Bourne movies which had the camera wildly veering around and the editor cramming in as many cuts as possible to have us understand something incredibly exciting was going on - it was too much.
Especially when the stars had evidently learned their martial arts moves only to see any continuity in the combat sacrificed to the fast-cutting approach, which many fans would complain about when they wanted to witness the full majesty of the fights with as much clarity as possible, only to find them turned into a noisy clamour, a riot of images you could make out a single punch or kick from every shot. Now, Won was by no means the only thriller director to create such sequences in this fashion, but many fans were getting nostalgic for the old time martial arts efforts where the clashes would play out with as few cuts as deemed valid, and indeed about this time films like The Raid were promoting just that, demonstrating an exciting item of action need not be a barrage of visuals.
Still, for a fair stretch of The Suspect, Won held the attention, notably thanks to his dedication to destroying as many vehicles as possible, making The Blues Brothers look like a slouch in that respect as cars went flying in all directions, wrecked. There was a sentimental aspect too, for Ji is suffering under his burden of shame for not saving his family, as we saw in (too many) flashbacks, so much so that it became a distraction, but give him an antagonist like North Korean Colonel Min (Park Hee-soon) and we had an rivalry that seemed more worthy of the cast's intensity. When Ji's boss is murdered, he has to go on the run but has in his possession a special pair of the man's glasses which hold a secret formula (an eccentric touch) that everyone believes to be a bomb to end all wars. However, what it actually was revealed a rather soft heart at the end of this at times brutal thriller, underlined by the would-be tearjerking final scene. Not so bad, but the discipline was lacking for too long.