Reading the words “New York Exclusive One Week Run” in reference to any Korean movie title sends my ass to a movie theatre as quick as the bowels relax after a triple dose of Metamucil. Some call me an “Asian Fetishist”. I call it common sense. Anyone who has viewed titles like Old Boy or The Host understand the influence South Korean cinema exudes internationally for its aesthetics, imagination, and sometimes/often provocative gore.
I spent only half the week trying to convince someone to accompany me to the weeklong release of The Chaser. By Wednesday, I visited the Independent Film Center alone and nestled into a comfortable seat among ten other moviegoers scattered across the theatre.
Did I mention the ‘sometimes/often provocative gore?’ In this film’s case I should say ‘often/more often provocative gore and violence.’ Ten minutes into the film, a hooker is attacked by a nasty john. Subsequently, we meet the story’s anti-hero: a former cop turned pimp with an easily riled temper; especially when his escorts are injured, threatened, or disappearing. And unfortunately for pimp Eom Joong-ho, disappearing is exactly what all his girls are doing.
The Chaser is an action packed film in which all events take place within 24 hours. Both gritty and visually sleek, the seamless editing and fluid camera work support the film’s fast paced momentum. By car, by foot, and brute force, Joong-ho zips throughout Seoul searching for the recently missing prostitute. Joong-ho’s chase begins as business, yet eventually transforms into a demanding moral struggle. Upon accepting culpability as the pimp, he embarks on an obsessive path biding for absolve.
Reminiscent of Jooh-ho Bong’s Memories of Murder, The Chaser is a serial killer focused film with a full tonal spectrum. The film’s tone weaves between suspenseful, darkly comedic, action packed, deeply disturbing and lastly: sad. Also, both films deal with themes of obsession, police ineffectivity, and serious ass-kicking interrogation.
Yet, unlike Memories of Murder, Na’s first feature is not ultimately thought provoking. Instead, The Chaser is deeply affecting on an immediate basis. The audience is utterly captivated from beginning to end. For the film’s finale, disturbing imagery and adrenaline pumping action are tied together with the knots of despondency. I felt depressed. I felt shocked. These feelings are to be expected when skull bashing, decapitation, or severed limbs do not see the justice of a happy ending.
The Chaser is not much more than viscerally entertaining. But, do not let my statement mislead you about the film’s quality. For, between all the cerebral indie dramas and the clone-like products gushing from Hollywood, a genuinely entertaining film has its own highly prized niche. The Chaser more than qualifies for this unique niche, it excels in the art of it.
Note: Warner Brothers has already purchased remake rights to Na Hong-jin’s box office hit for $1 million.