Hong-joo (played by Kim Min-joon) is a cop obsessed with trying to collar as many perpetrators as possible. It doesn't matter if he's on vacation, or at a dance club, or even walked outside for a smoke. He needs those handcuffs at all times. Hae-rang (played by Nam Sang-mi) has the opposite problem. She's passionate about working in the field, but for ill-defined sexist reasons is frequently stuck behind a desk. Together, they fight crime.
"Never to Lose" is a fairly generic cop movie. I could describe the other detectives in Hong-joo's unit, but I'd just be going over more and more archetypes with simple character conflicts like forgetfulness, frustration over a lack of free time, or a desire to keep the cops from losing control. The detectives in "Never to Lose" come off more like relatable beleaguring employees than they do movie cops, because their on-the-job frustrations frequently have relatively little do do with actual criminals.
It's fortunate that "Never to Lose" has this particular edge, since the villain ends up being more of the usual from the genre in recent years- the rich guy who acts like a gangster, to the point he might or might not actually be a gangster, it's that hard to tell. I found it telling that his criminal enterprise of choice is illicit drugs. The near disappearance of this plot device from modern Korean crime fiction is, I think, a good indicator of how that particular criminal enterprise has been marginalized on the peninsula.
Back to the movie. Wedded as "Never to Lose" is to basic tropes like the bust gone wrong, the heroes having to fight for revenge, and the predictable car chase, it's the character relationships I keep coming back to, and how the workplace in "Never to Lose" has a surprisingly lot in common with "Misaeng" of all things. The consequences for workplace failures are a lot more severe when they involve mishaps like guns disappearing- and these terse moments of incompetence are treated not as comedy, but as career-destroying disasters.
There's also a fair amount of honesty about how the police departments are expected to show results by making lots of arrests. That's a big reason why Hong-joo spends so much time catching criminals- it's less because he really hates crime, and more for the sake of helping the department reach quotas. Effort is all these guys really have to go on. Note how Hae-rang is fairly incompetent for much of the finale in part because she's a traffic cop, not an action movie cop.
While "Never to Lose" has a lot of positive points going for it in the more subtle character interactions, there's not really that much of greater substance. This movie has the same plot as "Veteran" except with less effective action scenes and less gratuitous scenes of the villain acting excessively evil for no reason. Given that the characters are fleshed out with more personalities, though, I suppose that's enough to grant "Never to Lose" a light recommendation.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Never to Lose" +DVD Giveaway"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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