The Chaser, 2008

Alternating between taut horror film and absurd comedy, Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser is an audacious, if over-contrived and diluted procedural thriller. Inviting comparison to Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (much to the detriment of Na’s film) in its spiraling investigation of a series of murders, The Chaser also suggests kinship with Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s Cure in its portrayal of a blank-faced, disarming, everyman killer. Centering on a former police detective turned pimp, Joong-ho’s (Kim Yun-seok) lone pursuit of a mysterious client (Ha Jung-woo) who has been linked to several missing call girls after the disappearance of another young woman in the same neighborhood, the film shifts abruptly from intrigue to a morbid rendition of Keystone Kops when the client, Young-min is hauled away to a local precinct and immediately confesses to the murder of several area prostitutes. Convinced that Young-min had kidnapped the women and is confessing to more sensational crimes in an attempt to confuse the case, Joong-ho unwittingly delays the investigation when the suspect suggests that his latest victim, single mother Min-jin (Seo Yeong-hie) may still be alive. With the situation further complicated by heavy media coverage in the case involving the mayor and a man protesting stalled sewage projects, the police are eager to put the public relations fiasco behind them, until officials, fearing even greater backlash from an apparent case of police cover-up, threaten to quash the interrogation even before an official investigation can be launched. Na’s odd combination of intricate plot (one that seemingly also implicates the church and relies on repeated incompetence and failure of technology) and facile caricatures (a money hungry pimp, a bumbling police squad, an impotent suspect) creates an underlying imbalance that contributes to the film’s manic tone which, given the film’s gruesome denouement, comes across as either half-baked or mean-spirited.

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