The Chaser

THE CHASER opens with an escort getting in a car with a john. We don’t see what happens after that, just that she doesn’t come back. Many days pass – we know this from the amount of parking tickets attached to the car when Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok, THE YELLOW SEA) finds it abandoned on a winding road in the Mongkol District.

“You bitch,” he says. “If I find you, you’re dead.” And it cuts to the title. THE CHASER.

So this guy is The Chaser. Cool, I thought. This tough-as-nails detective is on the trail of a serial killer, and he’s not messing around!

Ha ha. Not quite. Come to find out he’s a pimp. It’s her he’s threatening to kill. A bunch of his employees have gone missing, and he thinks they’re running out on him. He sees it as a personnel problem. Not to be preachy but in my opinion pimping is not a respectable line of work, and he performs this immoral vocation in the style of a heartless corporate boss, or an Ebenezer Scrooge.

He pushes around his assistant/flyer distributor Oh-jot (Koo Bon-woong) and calls him Meat Head. He calls and hectors his prostitute Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee, BEDEVILLED) into working even though she’s horrendously sick. He keeps prioritizing business over people.

Even when he realizes these prostitutes aren’t running from him he remains in denial, still talking about them like they’re a commodity, stubbornly insisting that this creepo john is selling them. He even says this after the movie has revealed to us that I was right about that opening scene, that this is a serial killer.

I was right about another thing: Joong-ho is a detective. Or was. A former cop, apparently kicked off for corruption, which he claims was not above and beyond that of the other guys still on the force. Anyway he opens an amateur investigation into the missing women, narrowing down the phone number of the john that was with all of them, figuring out just too late that that’s who he sent Mi-jin to, trying to get the location out of her, but she loses reception. This is a terrifying scene as he lets her use the bathroom and she notices rings on the wall for chaining shackles to.

An unexpected development: Joong-ho actually finds the guy, Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo, THE HANDMAIDEN) pretty quick and catches him. It’s almost like a Marcellus-running-into-Butch moment where he sees him driving and can’t believe his luck. Trouble is he can’t get him to reveal where he took Mi-jin, and the cops don’t think they have the evidence to keep him for long. They suspected him once before and couldn’t prove anything that time either. They keep him around as long as they can (just handcuffed in an office!), everybody rushing around to find something before they have to let him walk.

All this is happening against the backdrop of an incident where cops were supposed to be guarding the mayor but failed to stop a guy from running up and tossing a wad of shit right in his face. Way worse than a pie, in my opinion. The media obsesses over the incident, totally missing the story of this serial killer sitting here not charged with a crime. More significantly, the bosses are terrified of another public embarrassment, and that causes them to be timid. They got a pretty good idea they’re not violating the civil rights of an innocent guy, but still, if they play this wrong they could lose him altogether. They know how Freddy Krueger didn’t have his rights read to him and they had to let him go and then the parents set him on fire but he made a deal with dream demons and the rest is history.

Anyway I appreciate that the bureaucrats in this movie are wrong without seeming like complete assholes. You get why they’re scared to fuck this up.

At the beginning I was a little worried that I wasn’t gonna be able to care very much for a guy involved in the pimping industry. As it went along though I found myself more sympathetic toward him. He goes from total asshole to unlikely good guy, begrudgingly forming a temporary guardian relationship with Mi-jin’s daughter Eun-ji (Kim Yoo-jung, SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE) and clearly feeling tremendous guilt about getting her into this mess.

And Yeong-min is a good character to root against. He’s a supervillain in the sense that he arrogantly pulls off these horrible crimes, but he also has a pathetic humanity to him that makes him feel more real. He doesn’t seem badass, he’s kind of a dork. In his bloody pit of horrors he tends to sit around in his underwear. He’s horrifically cruel to women but scared when confronted by men, and angry when a female cop has power over him. He has humiliating sexual hangups that lead to the despicable sadism, and officers are able to push that button once they figure it out.

Recently I asked for recommendations for 21st century action movies and multiple people suggested THE CHASER. Personally I wouldn’t categorize it as an action movie, but it does have some foot chases and a brutally unglorified knock down drag out. There’s also a great moment when Joong-ho is caught lying about being a cop and the guy he’s questioning stands up out of his desk to reveal that he’s a giant. Joong-ho turns away like he’s gonna get the fuck out of there, but suddenly he spins back and bashes the guy on the head with a metal chair. Excellent feint.


And actually I gotta hand it to one other sequence where the police have to arrest Joong-ho for beating the shit out of the suspect, potentially destroying their case. He’s openly working on the investigation at the time, there are officers everywhere, and they’re friendly with him since they’re former colleagues. They don’t expect him to put up a fight. He uses that to his advantage, scrambling his way through a bunch of guys and scurrying out of there. It’s not a one-badass-guy-taking-on-all-comers type fight, it’s more of a realistic, awkward scuffle with the officers all having a “come on man, don’t make us do this” kind of attitude about it.

People had already recommended this to me whenever I mentioned how much I loved I SAW THE DEVIL. They’re both South Korean movies from around the same time with a badass guy chasing after a serial killer and fighting dirty, but they’re very different from each other. I SAW THE DEVIL is way more action oriented, but also gorier and visually and tonally much darker. To me this one feels comparatively tame, but (MAJOR THOUGH NON-SPECIFIC SPOILERS) man does it really South-Korean-cinema us in the balls toward the end when it uses every film technique in the book to tell us don’t worry, there is some suspense here but our boy is gonna get there in time and he’s gonna save the day and then whoops did I say it was fine no it is definitely, definitely not even remotely fine my friend life is shit.And then what happens is equally upsetting on a “oh, that poor lady, I liked her” level and a “I think I might throw up” level. Real mean. They know what they’re doing over there with these fucked up movies. They know how to get us.

THE CHASER’s villain is a horrible misogynist, and its reality is a man’s, man’s, man’s world and not a good place for a woman or a girl. Even our hero is selling women for sex, the very sympathetic female lead is a victimized sex worker, the police department is male dominated. I think the director sees this for the nightmare it is, and leaves us young Eun-ji as a reason for men like Joong-ho to wake the fuck up and try to make the world a better place by looking at the man in the mirror, etc.

I didn’t even realize until afterwards that director Hong-jin Na is the guy who did THE WAILING. This was his first feature, followed by THE YELLOW SEA.

Important historical note: although THE CHASER was a big hit in South Korea, it opened in second place to JUMPER starring Hayden Christensen.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 at 9:29 am and is filed under Crime, Horror, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “The Chaser”

  1. I really don’t remember why, but this movie effectively killed the Korean cinema kick I went on like six, seven years back. My office at the time was less than five blocks from at least four different porn stores that sold Asian imports, so I was picking up a new one practically every day at lunch. I had a run of tremendous good fortune in blind-buying Korean movies like CITY OF VIOLENCE, THE HOST, HEAVEN’S PRISONERS, some others I’m forgetting, to the point where I was convinced there was no such thing as a non-awesome Korean movie. I thought Korean filmmakers had found the sweet spot between the cold austerity of Japanese cinema and the colorful populism of Hong Kong film.

    Then I watched a few nothing-special cop flicks, culminating in THE CHASER, a movie that didn’t hold my interest at all. Nobody to root for, no reason to care, no great set-pieces to perk things up. Not a bad movie but not worth what I paid for it.

    After that I kind of lost interest. I have a stack of movies from that period that I still haven’t gotten around to.

    Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t started hating Korean cinema or anything. I’ve watched some great Korean movies since then. But they’re not bulletproof for me anymore. I read the plot synopses and a lot of them say “That sounds a little too much like THE CHASER” to me.

  2. Crushinator Jones

    April 12th, 2017 at 2:37 pm

    See, I love this film. I rooted for the hooker to escape, for the villain (a pathetic contemptible little fuck) to get his, for the eponymous Chaser to realize what a piece of shit he was. This is my favorite S. Korean misery movie (although I haven’t seen them all) and a great intro to the genre.

    Really glad to see a review of this. Vern, if you’re taking requests I vote for either OUTLAND with Sean Connery or RUNAWAY with Tom Selleck. Both are mid-budget science fiction movies from the 80s that are flawed but enjoyable IMO.

  3. I didn’t realize I had watched this one years ago until the 4th paragraph of Vern’s review. I seem to remember thinking it was good when I watched it but it must not have made much of an impression on me. I will have to revisit it at some point. I know that I enjoyed I SAW THE DEVIL way more.

    WAR OF ARROWS is a badass Korean archery film that I would recommend, and isn’t a relentless bummer like many other South Korean films.

  4. Sorry, WAR OF THE ARROWS.

  5. There’s a lot of random crazy stuff in these darker Korean films that don’t make them total bummers. Like if David Fincher had a sense of humour. It’s the best of both worlds.

  6. Troy, I agree some of them have an enjoyable dark humor to them, but many of them are just bummers. That is not to say that they are bad films just downers. Even a fun action adventure film like THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD (a movie I love) (Very Mild Spoilers) has a subversive ending that is effective as dark political satire, but not that satisfying as conclusion to the story considering the journey up to that point.

  7. While we are talking Korean cinema recommendations I would also recommend THE TIGER: AN OLD HUNTER’S TALE staring Choi Min-shik. It is a moving and badass film about the hunt for the last tiger in Korea that works as a metaphor for the suffering and resilience of the South Korean People under Japanese occupation. It feels like something Clint Eastwood would make if he were Korean.

    It is not an action film but I also enjoyed the erotic thriller THE HANDMAIDEN.

  8. I really liked this one and had the similar reaction.

    The film I want to recommend is not action but another cop vs. criminal and after watching tons of film, it is still one of my favorites. It is called Public Enemy starring Sol Kyung gu and Lee Sung Jae.

    As for action I think S.Korean films do not have that certain rythm a good action film has to have. Their tempo always seem a bit slow to me (despite the fact that the stunt work is usually very good). However WAR OF THE ARROWS is an exception, definitely a very good action film, one I had seen more than once and still like.

  9. My memory of this one is much like Mr. Majestyk’s – that it didn’t deliver.

    The two things I have come to love about Korean cinema most are that it is wholly unafraid of being melodramatic, big emotions and often wrenching reversals come as standard, and that they lack irony without becoming po-faced – even as the razor blades and the claw hammers and the eyeballs and the severed body parts pile up, there is never any attempt to wink to the audience and let them off the hook.

    At it’s best, THE HOST for example, this can make even popular genre films intensely moving, as I think Vern found with TRAIN TO BUSAN.

    THE CHASER, despite its plot, felt ordinary and uninvolving.

  10. So a review of The Wailing and now this, surely a review of The Yellow Sea is on the cards. That movie is insane. Anyway, I enjoyed The Chaser well enough but it hasn’t stuck with me like TYS has.

  11. THE YELLOW SEA has to be on the cards cause THAT one was the action movie that the people Vern mentioned thought CHASER was.

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