by Del Harvey
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The Chaser is a Korean crime thriller that was a sleeper-hit in its own country. The film was made by first time feature director Na Hong-jin, who had previously made the award-winning short A Perfect Snapper Dish. And Na made the film under a small production company with no well-known, big name stars. The result is a film that was the first big boxoffice hit in Korea in 2008.
The Chaser boasts a shooting style which utilizes actual lighting over the typical, enhanced Hollywood-style of lighting. It features action sequences and characters who seem quite real and ordinary. Because of these elements, The Chaser turns out to be anything but your normal cop thriller, as motifs are presented naturally but often turned on their heads. This, combined with its blunt, matter-of-fact staging of brutal violence give this film strong pacing and moments of realistic suspense.
The Chaser tells the story of Jung-Ho, a former cop turned pimp for a “massage parlor.” He is convinced that a young, dorky customer Young-min has kidnapped and sold his “girls,” including Mi-jin. Unfortunately, what the cops discover is far worse: Young-min is a serial killer who uses a chisel and a hammer to slaughter his victims in lieu of sex. While the police investigation stumbles and takes a detour, Jung-ho increasingly suspects that Young-min’s latest victim, Mi-jin, is still alive somewhere.
The characters in The Chaser are really what make the film come alive. Jung-Ho, for example, is a surly, foul-tempered, hard talking man who seems driven solely by his pursuit of easy money. And he seems perpetually in a bad mood because quite a few of his girls (girls who he effectively owns, having bought out their bad debts) have recently begun to take advantage of his lackadaisical attitude or have gone missing. Initially, Jung-Ho believes they are being stolen away by a rival pimp who is reselling them for profit, but the truth he discovers is far worse. There is a serial killer hunting down sex works, which is why he has not been detected - because he preys exclusively on call girls hired from a number of escort agencies around the city.
On this fateful night, after the call comes in for a girl, Jung-Ho realizes too late that the client’s phone number matches the number used to book sessions with a pair of his missing girls. His old cop instincts taking hold, he rushes off to protect his investment. But a chance encounter leads Jung-Ho to the actual killer, while his girl Mi-Jin is nowhere to be found, and the client - Young-min - spouts some nonsense about having killed a dozen women. In an intriguing turn of events, the occurrence is enough to get Young-Min (the killer) to go the police; but the killer is smart enough to give them only enough to taunt but not enough to actually charge him or even hold him for an extended period of time. And so the chase begins to find the girl and save her, if they can. And the ticking bomb is that if they can’t find her - or other significant evidence - within twelve hours Young-Min must be released.
The Chaser is an exciting cop thriller which turns the style of the genre on its head and never lets go from the opening reel. This energetic and riveting film will keep you glued to the edge of your seat, and the performances of its actors keep you intrigued throughout.
The Chaser is being released by IFC. Each month IFC Films offers two to four new genre titles via its IFC Festival Direct on-demand service. These films are available nationwide for 90 days on most major cable systems representing more than 30 million households and can be found in a special “IFC In Theaters” “IFC Festival Direct” or “IFC Midnight” branded section within each cable company’s on- demand platform.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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