The Chaser Na Hong-Jin

The Chaser Na Hong-Jin
There's a conscious attempt to subvert our expectations with The Chaser, Korean Na Hong-Jin's nasty and cynical serial killer flick, which travelled to Cannes, swept the major hardware at the Korean Film Awards and is now available on DVD. Na borrows thematic and stylistic elements from Korean cine-extremists Park Chan-Wook, Bong Joon-Ho and Seung-wan Ryoo, beating us down with violence, depravity, ineffectual heroes and fights involving hammers, chisels and other tools to sometimes inspired but mostly unsatisfying effect. Jung-ho (Yun-seok Kim) is a typical Korean antihero, a former police detective who quit the force to become a misogynist pimp, streeting his call girls with complete disregard for their safety. After Jung-ho makes a connection between one of his clients and the disappearance of some of his girls, he uses one of his best hookers, Mi-jin Kim (a poor, innocent, single mother) as bait. Jung-Ho indeed snares the perpetrator, who even confesses to murdering 12 girls, but with Mi-jin still missing Jung-Ho embarks on a desperate search to find her. Director Na throws a wrench into the works right away, making no attempt to hide the identity of the killer from us. In fact, we meet him in the first act, with a matter-of-fact, un-dramatic confession. With this invigorating shift in the paradigm of the serial killer film, Na appears to open his canvas and pull us into roads less travelled. The series of procedural action scenes, which lead to capturing the killer, are crafted with stunning tension and detail, and by the midpoint Na has us manipulated like Silly Putty, guiding us into treacherous, unpredictable waters. Unfortunately, Na also backs himself into a corner. With the killer caught, momentum is halted, teetering on the minor tension of Mi-jin's search and the exposure of the ineffectual justice system. And without a dynamic and charismatic antagonist the second half deflates with only dribbles of tension. It's a typical first feature for Na, who shows us his teeth with his muscular abilities to shock us with squirmy Korean cine-violence. Like Old Boy, a hammer is featured prominently in the final fight, which admittedly is a brutal and cathartic climax, and almost enough to make up for the film's narrative gaps. Apparently an American remake is in the works with Na at helm, which might give him a second opportunity to properly fill these voids. Other than a trailer, special features are bare bones. (E1)