Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fantasia Film Fest Review: The Chaser


The Chaser (2008) aka Chugyeogja imdb Fantasia
Directed by Na Hong-jin
Written by Na Hong-jin, Hong Won-Chan and Lee Shinho

"No screaming!" said the guy to my left, a Fantasia Film Festival acquaintance. We save seats for each other, mock each other's taste in movies, and argue about films.

"It's not a horror film," I protested, not bothering to argue that I am not a screamer, since I am a bigger fraidy-cat than Sylvester in the Porky Pig and Sylvester haunted hotel shorts.

"It's a serial killer film. Same difference."

But he was wrong. The Chaser is quite different. It's not a mystery puzzle to be solved. It's not a spooky horror film with the serial killer as the monster. It is just barely a police procedural, only one that shines a spotlight on the bureaucratic failings of South Korea's justice system (and our own).

Our "hero" is Joong-ho Eom (played by Yun-seok Kim) an ex-cop booted off the force for corruption, who now makes a living as a pimp. (Need I say that it's hard out there for a pimp?) Joong is in money trouble because two of his girls have disappeared after borrowing money from him as an advance. Joong believes that they simply ripped him off, but when he realizes that both girls disappeared after doing out-calls to the same phone number, he becomes suspicious. When the customer calls back, Joong decides to set a trap and sends Mi-jin Kim (played by Yeong-hie Seo) with orders to call Joong with the customer's home address. Mi-jin, a single mother, is home sick, but Joong cajoles her into going.

Joong's trap works after a fashion. He catches the man who has been interfering with his business, Young-min Jee (played by Jung-woo Ha) but does so away from Young-min's home. Worse still, Joong thought that he was trapping a rival pimp, at worst a white slaver, but it quickly becomes clear once the police become involved that Young-min is a serial killer.

The problem is that the accidental way that the killer has been caught, away from his lair and without evidence, makes it very difficult for the police to prove that Young-min is a serial killer. The fact that Joong, an ex-cop, brutalized Young-min before the police got invoved only makes prosecution that much more difficult since the only evidence is Yoong-min's confession which any defence attorney could succesfully argue was violently beaten out of their client.

Joong's frustration is that he is convinced that Mi-jin is still alive, but can get no official help to find her. And so begins a race against time, as the police try to find enough evidence to keep a serial killer in jail and Joong simultaneously tries to find the serial killer's lair to rescue Mi-jin, before the police are forced to release him.

The Chaser is by turns suspenseful, incredibly violent, darkly morbid, and bitterly funny. Joong, by far the best detective in the film, works on the principle that mysteries are solved through a combination of perspiration and inspiration. His assistant pimp Meatball supplies most of the perspiration and some of the best gags in the film.

Some people that I saw the film with found the third act of the film too contrived and manipulative. They may be right, all I can say is that I was quite willing to be manipulated, and this film took me on an emotional journey that no serial killer film has ever taken me on.

As I predicted from the start, there was no screaming from me when I saw this film, just the sound of my heart breaking.

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