I have been meaning to write about this movie for a little while. But first a digression.
For those in the UK, you can get this film on DVD from HMV for between £3 and £5. If you like what I write about it, I seriously urge you to do so. However, the packaging bothers me. At the top of the front cover, it proudly proclaims that “soon to be remade by the team that brought you ‘The Departed’”. Now I love “The Departed”, for my money it is one of the three best Asian cinema remakes that Hollywood has done. This is even more impressive as I adore “Infernal Affairs”, the HK movie it is based upon. It manages to keep the story somewhat intact, transfers the story successfully to the West, and is populated with a great cast (and yes, I will blog about it sometime). However on the back of the DVD, it says “Catch it now before it is ruined by a planned Hollywood remake”. I mean seriously? Such a mixed message!
Anyway, that little marketing gripe over, what we have here is one of my favourite Korean thrillers. The short synopsis is that a serial killer is kidnapping and brutally murdering Prostitutes. Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok) is their disgraced ex-detective pimp, who initially thinks that someone is stealing his girls (they work for him to pay back their debts). Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hie), his last available girl is sent to a client, and he realises that this is the same person who last saw all his other girls. He tries to follow this up, and tries get Mi-jin to describe her surroundings. Mi-jin gets attacked, but not before Joong-ho is able to trace and catch the killer. He is still ignorant of the acts the killer is actually perpertrating, and Mi-jin is left bloodied and unconscious. The killer is delivered to the police, however, although he admits to his crimes, there is no evidence, so he will go free. Joong-ho finds out that the last girl is still alive, and now must find her, before the killer goes free to finish the job.
This is a dark movie – shows a seedy side of life not often seen in Korean cinema. This is film set in the street level of crime, it is dirty, violent and oppressive.
The film pretty much shows the Police to be inept. This is quite a common them in Korean cinema – they seem crippled by corruption, process and media pressure.
I loved that we have an unsympathetic and complex ‘hero’. He really used to be a dirty cop (he was caught taking bribes), and there is no real redemption for him. He now lives as a pimp, and his motivations are initially purely monetary. We see him grow and change and the film progresses, inspired partially by Mi-jin’s young daughter. Yet he is never truly redeemed.
The film is tense and dramatic, rarely letting up. It is also realistic, it feels like these are real people running around the streets, not some superhumans. It is also graphically violent, in a realistic way, not artistic.
Spoiler time – the ending is fabulous. Mi-jin gets away. On her own. But a slip of the tongue from the woman hiding her – and the killer finds her, and brutally finishes the job. This is not a film with happy ending.
If you have the stomach for this kind of film, I promise you that you will love it. I know I did.