The Chaser

Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 September 2008

Venues: Cineworld Shafts Ave, Vues Islington + Sheperd’s Bush (London) and key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Na Hong-jin

Writers: Hong Won-chan, Lee Shinho, Na Hong-jin

Original title: Chugyeogja

Cast: Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yeong-hie

South Korea 2008

125 mins

From first-time director Na Hong-jin comes a film that is part Seven, part 24. Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok) is an ex-cop turned pimp whose call-girls have recently gone missing. He assumes they ran away from the night business until he tracks their bookings back to one client in particular; enter a psychopathic serial killer who keeps the girls in the basement of his house, torturing them calmly till they die – during one gruesome scene, in an intense close-up shot, he takes a hammer and chisel to the head of his latest victim, Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hie, Shadows in the Palace), who wriggles in distress whilst the hammer blows come down.

Suspense builds after Joong-ho catches the killer and takes him to the police station, only to find himself accused of assault and impersonation of a police officer while the killer is freed. Not only is the chase on again, but Mi-jin is still slowly bleeding to death in the basement, preying on Joong-ho’s conscience. By the time the police realise that they let the real killer go, Joong-ho is already in the field, a few steps ahead of them, working alone, Jack Bauer-style.

Kim Yun-seok gives an excellent performance as the tough pimp who softens up and genuinely takes responsibility, feeling he has a duty of care for his charges. Filmed mostly at night and with many hand-held sequences, The Chaser is a highly polished and accomplished first film for Na Hong-jin. The suspense is taut throughout, and the plot satisfyingly complex.

A massive success in its native South Korea, The Chaser has generated endless discussions on internet forums between those who see it as just a rehashing of late 90s Korean action films and those who can’t stop enthusing about it. To this reviewer this old dog has no new tricks, but it is worth watching if you are a Korean film fan, not simply because it is slick and smart, but also to make your own mind up.

Expect this film to hit our screens twice – Metrodome (the people who brought us Donnie Darko and Assembly) are releasing this title in the UK and Warner Bros have bought the remake rights.

Joey Leung