추격자 [Chaser] (2008)
Directed by: Hong-jin Na
Starring: Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jeong-woo, Seo Young-hee
Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes.
Chaser is a suspenseful pursuit of a serial killer and his latest victim, who is still alive. The primary protagonist is Eom Joong-ho, a former detective that we find out was fired for making money on the side in illicit ways. Joong-ho now runs a prostitution company, which he manages to run because his former colleagues turn a blind eye to the affair. However, business hasn't been going well because his girls keep disappearing. At first he believes they've run off until he notices that all the girls that have disappeared all met with the same person before going missing. And he realizes he just sent another girl, Kim Min-ji, to see this person. He thinks this guy is selling off his girls, so he tells Min-ji to inform him of the address in 망원동 (Mangwon district) where this guy lives so he can confront him.
Min-ji never calls back though, because the bathroom of the house is bricked in and there's no cellphone signal there. Min-ji suddenly finds herself locked in the house and attacked by the man, who ties her up and attempts to smash her head with a hammer and chisel. She struggles enough that he's unable to get a solid hit on her; her death is postponed by an elderly couple arriving at the door, interrupting the killing. The elderly couple happen to be looking for the real owner of the house, who they've not seen lately. When they begin to notice something is wrong, the serial killer, Je Yeong-min, kills them. He then has to park their car away from the house, but in doing so, runs into Joong-ho's car. Joong-ho, seeing blood on Yeong-min's shirt guesses this is the man he's looking for and confirms it by calling the cellphone number. The chase then begins.
Yeong-min is caught and taken into police custody, where he quickly admits to killing numerous people. However, the police can only hold him until the next day at 12pm without evidence. The police begin looking for evidence to keep Yeong-min in custody, meanwhile, Joong-ho begins his own investigative operation without the police's help to try and find Min-ji.
The serial killer/suspense genre isn't new to South Korea. There was 2002's 공공의 적 (Public Enemy), 2003's 살인의 추억 (Memories of Murder), which was based on the country's first known serial murders (1986-1991), and, more recently, 2007's 그놈 목소리 (Voice of a Murderer), which was also based on a true story. Chaser shares many similar themes with these films, especially the frustration of the police in getting the information they need. As in Memories of Murder, there's this quandary about interrogation tactics. The police are unable to get any information out of Yeong-min, so when Joong-ho shows up and starts beating him, the police turn a blind eye. There's also this sense that the police are more interested in the political benefits to the case rather than the murders themselves. The mayor of 서울 (Seoul) had feces thrown in his face at a market, and the police hope that this serial killer case will take attention off the mayor.
The emotionally crushing third act reminds me a bit of Voice of a Murderer, and is quite different than what you would find in American films of this nature. In most American films, this would have a happier ending, where the “good guys” triumph and justice is served. It seems Koreans have a greater appreciation of melodrama, or at least a firmer understanding and recognition that sometimes everything doesn't work out neatly in the end.
The residential shooting locations (which I'm guessing may have actually been shot in 망원동) I especially liked. The narrow, twisting maze of streets with their walled houses along the hills provide an excellent backdrop for a story that leaves you unsure what will happen at each turn. The only complaint I have with the film is that Yeong-min's character isn't well developed. There are a few issues about his character that are presented but never dealt with in any way, like what role Christianity has to play in his actions. It's shown that he drew and sculpted depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus, but provides no insight into what this has to do with anything else, except Yeong-min's interest in chisels and hammers. Overall, a great film though.