THE CHASER (2008)
Dark, nihilistic and purposefully exasperating, a pimp races to find a missing call-girl taken in by a monstrous serial killer
Cinema has the ability to take us to dark and unfulfilling places. Na Hong-jin's very grim thriller provides an uneasy and frustrating voyage into the ticking-clock chase to save a captured woman.
Its real-life inspiration certainly sets the appropriate tone. Korean serial killer Yoo Young-chul killed 20 people, chiefly sex workers and rich older men, between 2003 and 2004.
In The Chaser, we are presented with a genuinely sinister screen serial killer in Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo), who has the sideways smirk and unapologetic pride in his work that makes him a suitability loathsome source of evil.
He is being hunted by Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok), a dishonest former detective who now works as a pimp and is facing financial trouble after two of his girls have disappeared.
One night he sends Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee) to a customer, but realises this client has been the last one to see the missing girls. Convinced that the girls are being trafficked, Joong-ho sets off to save Mi-jin before Yeong-min claims his next victim.
That review synopsis is purposefully clipped in nature, encapsulating only the film’s early stages. As The Chaser twists and turns in truly surprising ways, it is best to know only scraps of the set-up so you can feast on the banquet of shocks that follows.
Despite the otherworldly nature of the evil the film depicts, much of the interactions are rooted in realism. Director Na wants you to know these are humans, much like the ones you walk past every day.
The action scenes and chases are particularly restrained. There are no leaps over impossible walls or jumps over high-rise gaps. You feel as if you are watching a desperate chase for a killer and it matters in real-life terms.
There are large degrees of police procedural elements, with Korea’s finest getting the traditional cinema treatment of ineptitude mixed with bureaucracy.
Do not let that trick you into believing you will be spared any of the usual Korean thriller ultraviolence, which arrives in regular and explosive bursts, often matching the hammer swinging of the watermark modern masterpiece Oldboy (2003).
For a debut film, it was a stunning entry for Director Na, with The Chaser winning him Best Director at the Grand Bell Awards and Korean Film Awards. With The Yellow Sea (2010) and The Wailing (2016), Na then established himself as one of Korea’s finest modern directors.
The film does provide the sensation of fraying your nerves then hollowing you out emotionally. For that reason, The Chaser will not be for everyone. But for those going along with the ride, there is method in the mayhem of this hugely impactful thriller.