“The Chaser” – C.J. Prince

Even with a first-time director and a cast lacking any famous actors, The Chaser became a sleeper hit in South Korea thanks to highly positive word of mouth from audiences. After I saw it, I understood why it became such a success back in its home country. The Chaser is, quite simply, a great movie. It tweaks a generic concept enough to make it feel refreshing and then keeps the momentum from its first act going thanks to a smart script and one great acting job.

Joong-ho is a former detective who now spends his days being a pimp on the streets, but he starts facing a lot of problems when several of his “employees” disappear. Running low on women, he forces one of his call girls to go see a client despite being too sick to take care of her child. He soon figures out that the girls who disappeared all went to the same client before vanishing. Joong-ho suspects that the person is selling his women off to someone else, but luckily he sees that the girl he sent out is going to the same man. He asks her to find out where the guy lives, but what Joong-ho doesn’t know is that the guy is a serial killer who is actually murdering his prostitutes. Joong-ho finds out the truth and then it’s a race against time to try and find where the woman is before she becomes another victim.

Even though it’s a lengthy description, I’ve really given out a small amount of the whole story. It’s better to watch The Chaser with little knowledge about it, since it’s filled with a lot of nice surprises. There are lots of moments throughout the film where things are set up to happen in a predictable way before those expectations are quickly shattered. It managed to keep me guessing as to what would happen next without coming off as cheap, which is something I find a bit rare with most thrillers today.

Another big thing that worked for The Chaser was Yun-seok Kim as Joong-ho. Even though the guy is a sleazy pimp, he still manages to be a likable guy. He starts out as arrogant and hotheaded but slowly transforms into a man who will do anything imaginable in order to help relieve himself of the guilt over what he did. I believed it, and by the end, I was rooting for him to save the day.

Unfortunately, everyone else in the film didn’t do too well acting-wise. Jung-woo Ha was pretty spotty as the killer, frequently switching between being evil and annoying. The police officers in the film didn’t do much either except present themselves as hurdles for Joong-ho. The prostitute’s daughter is brought in for the first half but soon drops out of the picture in an unexplainable way, and towards the end, there are a few frustrating moments that make no sense other than to kill time. Luckily, they weren’t too distracting from the main story though, and despite the problems, I was still pretty engrossed.

Even though it does share similarities to other movies (there’s one shot towards the end that’s reminiscent of Seven), The Chaser manages to separate itself from the crop of boring predictable thrillers that have come out over the years. The writing is smart, it never feels predictable, and it’s all held together by a great leading actor. It may not live up to movies that put South Korea on the map like Oldboy, but it sure is one hell of a film.

Rating: ★★★☆

-C.J. Prince

C.J. periodically contributes his musings on cinema to JoBlo, Arrow in the Head, and Associated Content.

Read A.J. Hakari’s The Chaser review here.

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