INSIDE MEN (2015)
2h 10m (Director’s Cut: 3h)
Korea’s corrupt elite are in the cinematic cross hairs as a disgruntled henchman and ambitious prosecutor target a presidential hopeful and his newspaper editor ally
Politicians and journalists habitually find themselves at the bottom of public trust surveys. In Inside Men these ostracised societal figureheads are paired together and portrayed as corrupt influencers meddling in an election.
Such a coupling offers easy access for audience backing as once again Korea’s cinematic lens is turned towards the country’s issues around power and corruption. Attempting to derail this pair is a working class prosecutor being held up by his lack of connections and a violent henchman, who is played by Lee Byung-hun (Joint Security Area, A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil). Lee’s star power provides additional audience support for their cause, despite the various unsavoury elements his character may provide.
The ambitious prosecutor Woo Jang-hoon (Cho Seung-woo – The Classic, Marathon, Tazza: The High Rollers) has no shortage of talent, but his humbler upbringing means he boasts a lack of powerful contacts. Such elements are restricting him from further promotion.
Lee Kang-hee (Baek Yoon-sik – Save the Green Planet!, The Big Swindle, The President's Last Bang) is the editor of a highly influential conservative newspaper. Lee has used his media outlet to champion the presidential credentials of congressman Jang Pil-woo (Lee Geung-young – A Sketch of a Rainy Day, Sunny, The Terror Live). The arrangement is tied together with a secret deal with the paper’s biggest advertiser.
When henchman Ahn Sang-goo (Lee Byung-hun) is caught pocketing details of this major sponsor's secret slush fund he is punished with a dismembered hand – a scene we witness in a full-blooded fashion and you will likely be squeezing your own hand in relief during this episode.
With Ahn keen for revenge and prosecutor Woo looking to land a big fish to beat the classist odds of climbing the legal profession, the pair combine in an attempt to bring down Lee and Jang.
Inside Men is a film as much about class as it is privilege. The hard-working but unconnected prosecutor finds himself aligned with the working class gangster. All the while, it confirms a bias that many already hold – that the media and its favourite politicians are conspiring against us. In fact, the power and sway of newspaper editor Lee is one that has been eroded by falling print media circulations and rising social media influencers.
What holds the film together is a series of fine performances from some of Korean cinema’s biggest screen hitter and enough twists to redirect the story in fresh directions. Crime, politics and the media are three vital pillars of our society and Inside Men offers a view where such pillars support each other for mutual gain.
Avid fans of the film are advised to seek out the full-fat three-hour version titled Inside Men: The Original to see director Woo’s cut. However, for almost everyone else the theatrical cut is a much tighter, less bloated option.
Slick and confident, Inside Men’s sharp script and engaging performances makes it a political drama with enough thrills and flickers of crime-sparked blood to keep every genre camp content.