Thursday, January 14, 2010

Quick Look: The Chaser (2009)

Na Hong-Jin’s The Chaser has a mishmash of multiple tones and threads pushed together in ugly clumps that it whipsaws past on its convoluted trajectory to the end credits. It’s about a former detective (Kim Yun-seok) turned pimp who has recently had a problem with disappearing prostitutes. It’s also about a group of unbelievably inept policemen who are more worried about how they allowed feces to be thrown in the face of a politician than about solving the crime spree that takes up the third plotline. The fourth plotline involves the criminal (Ha Jung-woo), a sadistic serial killer no less, and the prostitute (Seo Yeong-hie) who he is currently holding captive in preparation for a kill. Long story short, very short, the detective finds the murderer and chases him down. But where’s the missing prostitute, still alive but bleeding and definitely threatened? The race, and chase, is on. This all happens fairly early in the film which then can focus on how many different ways a plot twist can happen – mostly escapes by the killer – that will lead directly to a chase sequence. This is, after all, The Chaser. There’s a cool adrenaline rush for a while, accompanied by a sickening tension that grows with each cutaway to the bleeding captive, but the balance between the broad humor of the bumbling police and the very real stakes of the race-against-the-clock is messy and frequently, jarringly, tips from one to the other with unexpected force. Then there’s the shocking violent act near the climax that derails the film entirely, a glibly punishing moment that pushed me out of the experience. Kim Yun-seok’s performance is gritty and funny enough, and the suspense is real enough, that it pulled me through, but this is ultimately a movie too painfully uneven to fully endorse.

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