Na Hong-jin’s first feature length film The Chaser is a fantastic first effort that shows a great deal of talent and no small amount of craft. Not only in the directing but also assisting in the writing of this film which was inspired by the events surrounding the real-life Korean serial killer Yoo Young-chul.
Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok) is a former detective turned pimp who is having trouble with some of his girls going missing, and hence leaving him out of pocket. After sending one of his remaining girls, Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee), out on a job he realises that it is to the same person who was the client for the other girls who have gone missing.
What follows for the rest of the run time is almost all a relentless to and fro as Joong-ho tries his best to track down the client, Je Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo). There is a large amount of searching around a residential area in an attempt to find the location of Mi-jin, no small amount of detective work from Joong-ho and, as is customary, a large portion of violence and gore. Yes, you will need a strong stomach to get through some of the more violent scenes that pepper this film, but it is all relatable to the situation and would suffer for the lack of it.
One common thread that I have noticed in Na’s films is his lack of belief in the police system to get the job done. Manned by idiots and loafs, they assuredly make a mess-up of any arrest, act like Keystone Cops when trying to arrest people, and generally make terrible decisions that let the culprit escape or get away with their crimes. This is also prevalent in Na Hong-jin’s fabulous film The Wailing.
On the flip side of having rubbish authorities it does mean that the protagonists need to take matters into their own hands, usually with quite extreme results and The Chaser is not exception to that rule. With a gratuitous amount of hammering, bludgeoning, kicking, punching and use of any other weapon that could be found being used to inflict injury it is brutal in its depiction of violence, but also with a realistic feel to it: people running get tired, fights slow down as the combatants tire. It is these small things that give the film that extra touch of realism, making the violence on show that little bit more harrowing and the chance of it happening that little bit closer to home.
Joong-ho is not the best at his job, and isn’t entirely pure in his intentions, being mostly money motivated, but he is a more likeable than his rival, Yeong-min. This relative goodness is why he can get away with what he gets up to and still seem like he is the hero, even though he gets arrested, beats up a hand-cuffed man multiple times and almost kills him. He does gain some compassion and some slight redemption as Mi-jin’s daughter is brought into the situation and ultimately resides under his care.
The Chaser isn’t as tense as I thought it would be, mainly due to the lulls between the action that means they don’t reach the adrenaline high as they could have, and the humour and ineptitude of the police provides a good deal of relief during these tense moments too, detracting from the serious situation on hand. Even with these considerations, The Chaser is a great film and really does mark out Na Hong-jin as one to watch and he has shown that ability in his subsequent films.