The Chaser (2008)
By: James Gillett on March 5, 2010  | 
Eastern Eye | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Korean DD 5.1 | 120 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Hong-jin Na
Starring: Yun-seok Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Yeong-hie Seo
Screenplay: Hong-jin Na, Won-Chan Hong, Shinho Lee
Country: South Korea
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If you've been watching a bit of cinema coming out of South Korea in recent years, you'll probably be aware that their industry, more than any other, is experiencing something of cinematic renaissance. The sudden boom, beginning with the lifting of certain political censorship stances, continued economical stability and whole new generation of filmmakers keen to bring culturally and politely relevant stories to the screen, occasionally within the form of hard edged genre films that resonate with audiences worldwide, has resulted in the industry's continued growth and success both domestically and internationally.

Without putting too finer point on it, things are looking very good for South Korea's film industry, and The Chaser, incredibly the work of a first time director Hong-jin Na, is another great example of the kind of quality films being produced there right now.

To bring you up to speed, Joong-ho (Yun-seok Kim) is a dishonoured ex- detective spending his days running prostitutes in downtown Seoul. After a few of his girls go missing, one of his remaining workers Mi-jin (Yeong-hie Seo) gets a call for an 'appointment'. Realising the caller's number matches that of the man he deducts last saw his missing girls, he decides to set up a kind of sting using Mi-jin as bait. Naturally not all goes to plan, an incident ensues, and he soon finds himself and the suspect, a rather nasty serial killer as it turns out, in custody, with Mi-jin missing. And therein lies the twist. Once out, his goal isn't to track down the killer, but rather to track down his latest victim in the hope she's alive before the killer can be released, and get to her first.

Not a movie to stick to typical Thriller conventions, The Chaser's protagonist, played in a genuinely standout performance by Yun-seok Kim, is quite literally a pimp, and not a partially likable guy. His motivation for hunting down his employee is at least initially driven by selfishness, making him an anti-hero of some stature. Also interestingly, the killer's identity is known very early on, and he's in police custody not long after, where he proceeds to smirk, play dumb and just generally act as a hindrance to the efforts of the police, just as the police themselves only ever serve as a hindrance to our pimp hero trying to track down Mi-jin. If that wasn't enough, a crazed protester flings his own faeces in the face of Seoul's Mayor, putting the police captain under intense pressure to quickly wrap up the case so as to shift public focus from the embarrassment.

What this all amounts to is a movie just as much about the politics and ineffectiveness of Seoul's police system, and specifically it's tendency to prioritise its external image over upholding the law, as it is about one man trying to reach the goal of finding his...well, prostitute. The brisk pace aids the film's tense and constantly involving plotline, which effectively utilises those themes to create a strong ever mounting sense of frustration. Impressively, it's all carried out with a welcome dark humorous streak that blends seamlessly with the drama. The visual style and score tends towards the low key end of the spectrum, respectfully keeping the focus where it counts: The plight of its characters, who feel all too real, providing arguably the films strongest asset.
Presented at 2:35:1 Anamorphic widescreen, The Chaser looks great with no apparent flaws. Another fine transfer from the consistently reliable Madman.
The choice of either Korean Dolby Digital 5.1 or Stereo 2.0, audio doesn't disappoint either. Clear, Balanced and dynamic.
Extra Features
Available are two featurette's: Making The Chaser Part 1: Bringing The Chaser To Life (12mins) which deals mostly with the films pre-production, and Making The Chaser Part 2: On The Street with The Chaser (28mins) which deals with production and includes some on set footage. Also on offer is a collection of Trailers from this and other Madman releases and a Stills Gallery.
The Verdict
The Chaser's strengths aren't hedged on camera theatrics or gun fights, but rather a grounded approach, three dimensional characters and a continuously mounting sense of frustration and tension. In short, South Korea continues to show the rest of the world how it's done. Heartily Recommended.
Movie Score
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