Today we look to distant South Korean cinema for an evening of high tension with this 2008 movie, The Chaser.
A story that tells with a great deal of creative freedom, the events of an actual serial killer from the early 2000s, known for his brutal methods of burning, maiming, and sometimes even eating his victims.
It all begins with former detective Jung-ho, who has since become a pimp, whose business is in trouble because some girls under his care are abandoning him.
So when one of his favorite protégés, Mi-jin, refuses an appointment because she is sick, he becomes furious and picks her up at home, forcing the girl to go to the client.
However, he later does not return, so Jung-ho suspects that this client may also be responsible for the kidnapping of the other prostitutes he has not seen since.
Determined to discover the truth, he begins a frantic hunt for the culprit, scouring Seoul’s seediest neighborhoods.
After a few useless visits to the usual suspects, he focuses on the young Young-min, whose warehouse he finds many disturbing and brutal hand-drawn pictures hanging on the walls.
The former policeman realizes he might be a dangerous serial killer, so he resorts to his contacts with the police to arrest him.
After a lengthy interrogation, although it is clear that the boy is crazy and dangerous, the police must release him due to a lack of hard evidence.
Jung-ho has no choice but to begin a solo mission to find Young-min and get him to confess to Mi-jin’s whereabouts.
Indeed, the girl’s life is on the line, as she was already sick at the beginning of the evening, and her condition is worsening by the hour.
Unusual urban predators
In the beating heart of Seoul, a seemingly calm metropolis, terrible atrocities, and brutality lurk, while the city seems indifferent to the fate of the helpless victims, who sometimes do not even have a chance to call for help.
Far from the tourist image usually we see, Hong-jin Na‘s talent as a director emerges in painting a darker, more realistic tour of the South Korean capital.
The exceptional cinematography contributes to a nocturnal atmosphere of urban realism, exploring the city’s darkest corners and highlighting the exploitation of the most vulnerable individuals.
The violent and gory sequences, while far from being mere excesses of cinematic sadism, reinforce the narrative and show the brutality hidden behind the seemingly tranquil facades of these large apartment buildings all alike.
Moreover, moral ambiguity pervades the entire plot, with cops and criminals blurring together as a ruthless murderer thrives in the shadows behind them.
In 2008, The Chaser was a huge success, being one of the few South Korean movies that fortunately reached European and U.S. audiences, albeit in a limited way.
Simplicity is the main strength of this thriller, which avoids overcomplicating the plot or resorting to contrived narrative solutions.
This tenebrous meditation on the duality of darkness and light in the contemporary world presents us with atrocious doubts and a sad reflection on humanity’s moral nuances and limits.
We also think that this film version is not even close to the real brutality of the serial killer from which it takes its inspiration.
A news story that has never been forgotten in South Korea, reopening the always hot debate about the death penalty and how society can protect itself against such mentally ill individuals.
A night-long face-to-face
Despite the diverse characters in this story, two emblematic figures stand out prominently: the main character and the evil serial killer.
Kim Yoon-seok‘s performance as the main character and anti-hero is marked by tremendous energy, revealing an ambivalent and stubborn man, once a policeman, who has crossed the line between legality and criminality due to scandals and disappointments in the justice system.
Although he initially proves cruel and greedy toward the prostitutes he runs, resorting to threats and blackmail to force them to serve clients, he undergoes an emotional evolution throughout the night.
Contact with the son of one of the women awakens his guilt, prompting him to embark on an unwavering mission to save her at any cost.
In parallel, Ha Jung-woo‘s performance as a serial killer is outstanding, molding a character that oscillates between comic naiveté and the cruelty of his criminal actions.
The interrogation scene in the police station is a moment of cinematic tension, evoking feelings of unease and hilarity at once.
Indeed, the killer appears to be an individual of apparent childlike innocence, luring and capturing victims with slight naturalness and then killing quickly and brutally.
This balance between naiveté and ferocity gives the character a different depth and complexity from the usual serial killers in the movies.
The constant clash and pursuit between these two characters is a sturdy tightrope that binds all the situations together in a duel that lasts an entire night and never seems to end.
Na Hong-jin perfectly balances action and thriller in the pacing and the drama and emotions on the psychological side equally well.
Overall, the premise is very original, and the development flows along without pause until an unexpected ending closes the story definitively like a boulder on a coffin.