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[HanCinema's Hall of Fame] "The Chaser"

2013/11/09 | 848 views |  | Permalink

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In the Spotlight this Week: "The Chaser" by Na Hong-jin

In 2005, self-confessed cannibal and serial killer Yoo Young-chul was sentenced to death for twenty counts of murder by the Seoul Central District Court. His victims included mostly prostitutes and the wealthy, stating, in front of the cameras, that: "Women shouldn't be sluts, and the rich should know what they've done". Three years after his sentences was carried out, Na Hong-jin made his directing debut with the intense and disturbing "The Chaser", a psychological thriller that drew inspiration from Yoo's grizzly and blood-soaked story and remains one of the most gripping and spell-binding entries into the genre. Over five million local filmgoers gorged themselves on Na's terrifying cinematic imagining at the time, and it wasn't just the real-world horrors that lured them in. The film employed the prestigious acting talents of both Ha Jung-woo ("The Terror Live", "The Berlin File") and Kim Yun-seok ("Hwayi : A Monster Boy", "Haemoo"), both of whom were recalled by Na for his sophomore feature "The Yellow Sea" in 2010. These two silver screen stars at the heart of Na's urban thriller, bringing to life Na's cruel and unusual collision of an ex-cop pimp and his cannibalistic counter.

Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok) has had enough of his girls running off without paying their dues, so when he doesn't hear from one of his girls (Kim Min-ji played by Seo Young-hee) he decides to investigate the matter himself. Joong-ho quickly realises that something serious is amiss, and uses his training as a lawman to see what he can uncover. The results of his enquiry are disturbing, and after some attentive determination, he is able to not only realise that his girl is in trouble, but also manages to chase down and apprehend the sadistic psychopath (Ha Jung-woo as Yeong-min) responsible for her disappearance. However Min-ji is still out there, somewhere, and the clock is ticking as he scrambles to find her before her assailant gets released. But this pimp gets little assistance from the authorities due to his own history on the force (and his current pimping vocation), leaving Joong-ho to seek out the madman's latest victim before it's too late.

If rice and kimchi are dietary staples of Korea's cuisine, then the revenge thriller must indeed be its chilling cinematic equivalent. You don't need to look too deep into Korea's film history to uncover a long lineage of events that gloriously showcase revenge in all its blood-splattering splendour. Law and order has little to say on the matter when the stakes are so close to home, and often Korea's heroes feel compelled, possessed almost, to pick up the hammer and return the favour with interest. While "The Chaser" can't really be considered a "Revenge" thriller it does contain its haunting and persistent spirit through the film's anxiety-provoking immediacy that entertains as much as it haunts. Pimps and prostitutes may not first appear like the sort of characters one would willingly throw emotions at, but in "The Chaser" Na weaves a compelling and empathic yarn that chokes those prejudices to pieces. There is nothing more horrifying that a killer without a conscious, a fear compounded in "The Chaser" by the questioning becoming of our pimped-out hero Joong-ho as we watch him try and do the right thing (despite how easily he could, in fact, divorce himself from it all at any moment). Joong-ho's conviction is massaged by the young Eun-ji (Kim Yoo-jung), the daughter of Yeong-min's latest victim who just wants to known when her mommy is coming back to her. Be it by push or by pull, Na's script and frantic pacing works wonders on our senses, and filmgoers will be on the edge of their seats hoping and praying for any signs of life at the end of this exhausting pursuit of sanity and order.

Na Hong-jin has not been terribly active these past few years, and hopefully fans of this directing talent will get a chance to experience more thrilling events like "The Chaser" in the near future. Until then Korean cinephiles will have to contend with his two current offerings, both of which are worthwhile contenders for your time and money. It would be exciting to see Na pair Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok up again, for their onscreen chemistry (or rather combustion) makes for some spectacular and captivating cinema. As far as debut features goes, you would be hard-pressed to find anything as remotely riveting as Na's efforts here. And while most of us would like to forget the horrendous real-world acts that spurred Na's cinematic sensibilities into action, "The Chaser" will remain a praiseworthy edition to the Korean thriller.

- C.J. Wheeler (chriscjw@gmail.com@KoreaOnTheCouch)

 

Available on DVD from YESASIA

DVD Single Disc Normal Edition (En Sub)

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