Since the dawn of the new millennium, not only has Cinema of South Korea enriched the world cinema with some of the most memorable films of recent times but in the process has also grown considerably into an Asian cinema powerhouse. Ushering into a new era brought upon by a fresh breed of filmmakers who with their bold vision & unadulterated quality have pushed their films to unexplored territories, relentlessly challenged the limits of censorship & have been ruthless in dealing with topics that were once considered forbidden or too extreme for mainstream audience. But the one genre where South Korean film industry has truly made an indelible mark is in thrillers & I mean it when I say that no other cinema industry around the world has done even half as impressive a job as South Koreans have when it comes to this genre & they still continue to surprise every passing year.
Inspired by a real-life Korean serial killer, The Chaser concerns Eom Joong-ho; an ex-detective turned pimp, whose girls have been disappearing lately without clearing their debts, thus leading to financial losses in his business. While trying to track them down, he finds a pattern which reveals that each of his missing girls have vanished after meeting the same client whom Kim Mi-jin; one of his remaining girls, is meeting with right now & believing that this client is reselling his girls, Joong-ho decides to find him before he sells her as well. However this client isn’t any mere reseller but a sadistic serial killer who has butchered all the women he called to meet & is planning to do the same to his latest victim. As both men unexpectedly come face to face with each other, the ultimate chase begins between the hunter & the hunted as Joong-ho races against time as well as the lethargic jurisdiction to save Mi-jin before it’s too late.
For a film that presents such an expert level of craftsmanship & maturity in almost every filmmaking department, it’s even more surprising to find out that this is director Na Hong-jin’s feature film debut. Hong-jin has directed it amazingly well by keeping the story very grounded & emotionally layered while also portraying its imperfect characters perfectly and manages to retain the plot’s cruel intensity from start to finish. The screenplay also deserves a praise for the little humour its writers were able to infuse in the film’s appalling nature. Cinematography & editing set an ideal tone for its plot as the camera work is very fluid & is at its best during the manic foot chases while editing unfolds the film’s events with stunning velocity. And last but not the least, the background score plays a major role in elevating the plot’s tense moments but also keeps the viewers’ emotions in check as per its desire.
Coming to the performances, The Chaser features a cast consisting of Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo & Seo Young-hee and the work by each one of them is very impressive, sturdy & spectacular. Yoon-seok stars as Eom Joong-ho; a dishonest former cop turned pimp whose detective instincts gets a new kick while he tries to track down the person responsible for his missing girls, and does a brilliant job in making us like an unlikeable character. Jung-woo puts up an absolutely sickening display of a serial killer inspired from real life & plays Je Yeong-min with balanced aggression. Finally we have Young-hee playing Kim Mi-jin; one of Joong-ho’s remaining girls & Yeong-min’s latest victim. The supporting performances are also very good with nothing major to complain. Also, by approaching the story as realistically as possible & paying extra attention to minute details that most films generally choose to skip over, The Chaser effortlessly manages to avoid falling into its genre’s clichés.
What I loved most about this film is that it dares to go against the conventions as well as some of the bold choices it makes to get there without compromising its quality. For a film that has ‘chaser’ in its title, it’s astonishing & heartwarming to see how amazingly well those on-foot chase sequences are executed & how painfully real it looks on the screen, thanks to the welcome absence of any stunts. These characters aren’t those perfect athletes who can run for miles without showing any signs of fatigue or those who can easily hop over a 10-foot wall & do things like that. Also atypical is its brave decision in the resolution of at least one of its characters which is going to surprise many viewers. On an overall scale, The Chaser is a deeply unsettling, mercilessly violent & unflinchingly brutal cinema from South Korea that paints a disturbing portrait of a serial killer while also making a subtle statement against the jurisdiction and, in my opinion, truly deserves a broader audience. A dream debut for director Na Hong-jin. A genre masterpiece. Certainly not for the easily distressed. Strongly recommended.