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Update Oct. 2013: 

This was the second time I saw The Chaser, honouring its listing in the filmspotting series of contemporary Korean films, and also honouring my memory loss regarding the fact that I saw it just over a year ago. But even after I realised that, I did not see a reason to abort the project, because I also remember that it was a really solid thriller, with all the ingredients that make the Korean thriller genre so worthwhile. It has a main character who is a crook, but still able to develop affection for the girls he used to consider only as merchandise in the game of pimps. He invests himself – his time, his business and his good health – to get back to the guy who apparently is responsible for the disappearance of a number of working ladies. The police is – also in good tradition of many Korean recent films – borderline incompetent, the villain is thoroughly psychopathic, but sufficiently controlled that we are not dealing with just an effort to avoid a massacre from happening. The script is more tricky than that, it allows to develop some form of pity and sympathy for the bad guy, who quite obviously is deranged, and in need of help rather than deserving our, the audience’s, unconditional despise.

They even manage to arrange a “Leon” moment, by introducing an incredibly cute girl to the story, who (of course) distracts our hero from doing what needs to be done, but who (of course) manages to crack open his heart and soul a bit, even though he would not really admit that, I suppose…

The finale is cleverly written, with outrageous developments leaving the audience ideally speechless. It is a refreshing reminder that deviating from the Hollywood formula of what satisfies an audience can make for much more satisfying film experiences.

Original Comments March 2012:

What’s wrong with these Korean people? Can it be that a certain social, economic and political environment systematically produces a taste for graphic violence, for the depiction of people hurting other people, for films that at some point feature a character (at least at some point, at least one character) drenched in blood, standing in the middle of a room with an axe-hammer-pick-axe-sword-baseball bat etc. in his hands, looking exhaustedly at the mass of human bodies around him that he has just beaten and cut to pulp? To be honest, I don’t blame them, those Korean people, I tend to very much enjoy these films with their uncompromising approach to bad things that can happen. But still, why is it them, and all the time? Strange, isn’t it? Of course because you have these central elements to every decent Korean thriller since I guess the Vengeance trilogy (at the latest, I am not very literate about Korean film history), newcomers need to offer variations – this newcomer here (director Na Hong-jin, whose directorial debut “The Chaser” is, and who has followed this one up with the very interesting “Yellow Sea”) places his elements in the framework of a cop thriller. You see at the outset what is happening, who is the bad guy, and how bad (pretty bad – it’s Korean…). You get to know the likable crook, whose main interest is to protect his investment, as there is somebody out there messing with the hookers that are on his watch. And there is the police force, which – again, what’s wrong with Korea??? – seems mostly to be a bunch of corrupt, imbecile and lazy slackers. Similar to “I saw the Devil”, the key is not finding the bad guy – the key is to trying to hold him in custody, and when you cannot do that anymore, to run very fast to keep the worst from happening. Now, this being a Korean thriller, it is almost the reverse of the Hollywood cliché: you almost expect things to turn out dismally, you almost expect all of your audience hopes to be kicked in the teeth… and the film delivers on this expectation to a good degree.

What distinguishes this thriller from others (Korean or not) is that it is pleasantly rooted in reality. People don’t just show up in places, they need to get there. They don’t just flee from the police, they need to turn a whole lot of hooks and loops to get away. They don’t just find the bad guy – they put a lot of effort into searching. With a city such as Seoul (or at least the suburb where most of the film plays) that is great to watch, as the place has twisted alleys and slopes, providing the structure of a little Tuscan mountain village, with all the opportunities for chasing, hiding, finding, and getting terribly exhausted after running up the hill. And at some point, somebody stands in the middle of a room, drenched in blood…  It’s all there for a perfectly entertaining night at the movies, if you happen to have a taste for this!  and

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