Saturday, 21 April 2012

Personal Favourites: The Chaser (2008)

The Chaser (2008) 
Home of another personal favourite Oldboy (2003) and 2010’s impressive I Saw The Devil, South Korea is increasingly becoming prevalent, not only in global cinema, but especially within the thriller genre. Thrillers constitute the majority of my ‘Personal Favourites’ list, I guess it’s because they allow for an amalgamation of elements from the likes of horror, action and drama cinema. And those exported from the Far East have successfully manage to achieve this feat in some memorable masterpieces. With their uncompromising and violent nature, there’s a certain defiant essence that enables them to portray the sheer, brutal ferocity of the human mind, an opportunity that Hollywood seems too afraid to explore, which brings us to Hong-jin Na’s directorial debut The Chaser. This is not only an unbelievable start to a promising career, but an incredibly intense and visceral piece of thriller cinema.
The story follows Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok), an ex-detective now a pimp, as he tries to investigate the disappearance of a number of his girls. Single mother Mi-Jin (Seo Teong-hee) is the latest to vanish, now unconscious in a grimy bathroom by psychopathic serial killer Je Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo). As Joong-ho’s search draws closer to her location, he coincidently collides into the killer. With the murderer arrested by the police, it’s a race against time for Joong-ho to find Mi-Jin before Yeong-min is let free from custody over a lack of evidence. Hong-jin Na and his writers succeed in creating a narrative that is fast-paced, smart and above all, thrilling. Taking the traditional ‘cat and mouse’ tale, the screenplay contorts the various plot elements to form a film with an essence of originality in a genre lacking refreshing concepts. There’s an overall harshness to The Chaser that is not restricted to its violent and grim nature. The film’s characters are predominately devoid of pleasant personalities, each being flawed. While slithers of charm and humanity come through the female cast members, immorality is a common trait of everyone. Eom Joong-ho strays into anti-hero territory with his impatience and general corrupt behaviour. However the audience’s frustration towards his character’s constant obstacles really shows the effectiveness of the writing in forming close ties to our imperfect protagonist.

The Chaser’s performances, while not “ground-breaking” (I hate that term), are strong and memorable. Ha Jung-woo is scarily believable as his serial killer character. His calm demeanour and “normal” outdoor behaviour, conceal a sadist searching for perfection in his murder, and one who revels in the pleasure of the kill. Meanwhile Kim Yoon-seok portrays his character convincingly and with phenomenal presence. He’s not a martial arts expert or a marathon sprinter, he’s a “average” dude that is shown through his exhausted, battered and bruised performance. The supporting cast do well with Kim Yoo Jung, playing Mi-Jin’s daughter, who is creepily mature at the age of 9.

The cinematography does exceptionally well in capturing the dark, brooding and grim streets and interiors of the Mapo-gu district of Seoul. Na Hong-jin and his cinematographer Lee Seong-jae manage to perfectly construct a film that constantly has an intense undercurrent, and successfully frame the abrupt, but intelligent changes in pace. From fist fights to on-foot chases, the camerawork engages the rough and enduring nature of the characters and the narrative. It’s a visceral and brutal experience.  

While The Chaser isn’t as “polished” as Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, it still strongly deserves a spot on this list. With its grizzly and undeniably dark atmosphere, the film is a constantly gripping and engaging thriller that’s one of the best directorial debuts of recent date. 

Check out my other 'Personal Favourites' in the Features section. 

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