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  Chaser, The Up To His Old Tricks
Year: 2008
Director: Na Hong-jin
Stars: Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yeong-hie, Ha Seong-kwang, Jung In-gi, Ko Bon-woong, Lee Jong-goo, Lee Sang-hee, Park Hyo-ju, Yeo Moo-yeong
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jung-ho (Kim Yun-seok) used to be a police detective, but after a scandal was fired, turned to crime and now makes his living as a pimp. Although that living is being jeopardised now that his girls are going missing; he goes to check up on one of them who has had a bit of trouble with a client who wanted his friend to secretly film her on his video camera, but after she called him a pervert he became aggressive. Luckily, Jung-ho gets there just in time and makes the client back down, but the prostitute is less than impressed and on the drive home gets out and walks away. It's the start of one hell of a night...

The Chaser, or Chugyeogja as it was called in its native South Korea, was one of that country's biggest hits in its year, mainly thanks to it having been based on a sensational real life murder case that had occurred there, although this was a fictionalised version and not quite the police procedural that it might have been. It garnered significant attention abroad as well, thanks to its deft mix of thriller conventions and quirky humour, all crafted by its director and co-writer Na Hong-jin to an impressive level of suspense, although there were those who had problems with it, in particular the way it somewhat clunkily changed its tone for the final act.

We follow Jung-ho around the city as he becomes increasingly agitated when he realises that one of his prostitutes, Min-jin (Seo Yeong-hie), may well have gone with the man who has been responsible for a spate of disappearances in the area. Unusually, we're in no doubt that that is what has happened because we also follow the criminal, Ji (Ha Jung-woo), so the question is not whodunnit, but when will he be caught? And more importantly, will he be caught in time, because Min-Jin has already entered his home and although Jung-ho told her to contact him she cannot get a signal on her phone. When she notices the padlock on the front door, she knows she is in trouble.

One of the issues you may have with this is that while it manages to work up a high degree of tension, the plot relies heavily on coincidence to keep things moving, so once poor Min-jin has been hogtied and knocked out with a chisel, Ji finds himself trying to get rid of two church members asking after the owner of the house. He disposes of them, but somehow gets into a crash with the searching Jung-hoo when he goes out in his car, which by an unlikely turn of events has the pimp cottoning on to the fact that he now has his man, and it's a matter of holding onto him to find out where his girl is. Soon the police are involved, and a chapter of accidents mounts up which would be more appropriate for a comedy if it were not for the grimmer aspects leaving their mark.

Both the pimp and the killer wind up at the police station, where Ji confesses all, but is too cagey with the information that really matters, which is the location of Min-jin - who is actually still alive and trying to escape. The lawmen here are portrayed in a critical manner, as if the filmmakers blame them for the murders reaching the levels they did, and there is a major plot point hinging around a spot of bureaucracy that effectively frees Ji to wreak yet more havoc. As if this were not complicated enough, Jung-hoo must look after Min-jin's understandably sombre-faced daughter, something he singularly fails to do, and events conspire to dash any hope you might have had for a happy ending. It's this bleakness after what has at times been unexpectedly funny that may leave one with mixed feelings about The Chaser, as a sense of futility emerges no matter how well made it is. Music by Choi Yongrock.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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