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FILM REVIEW: The Chaser (2008)

The Chaser - Re-release Review

Director: Na Hong-jin

Starring: Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yeong-hie, Kim Yoo-jung, Jeong In-gi

Written by: Won-Chan Hong, Na Hong-jin, Shinho Lee

Produced by: Yoon In-beom, Su-jin Kim

Cinematography by: Sung-je Lee

Original Score by: Yong-rock Choi, Kim Jun-seok


A disgraced ex-policeman who runs a small ring of prostitutes finds himself in a race against time when one of his women goes missing.

The Chaser Film Review


Soaked in blood and drenched in depravity, this South Korean thriller is gut punching and disturbing as it stuns 16 years on from its original release. The quintessential classic revenge joint post-'Vengeance Trilogy' is sinister, packed with tension and heightened suspense throughout.

Written and directed by Na Hong-jin of 'The Wailing' fame, in his feature debut,'The Chaser' is an unconventional detective film based on a true story about the infamous Raincoat Killer. Hailed by critics at the time and set in the rainy hills of the Mangwon neighbourhood in Seoul, Joong-ho Eom (Kim Yoon-seok), the former detective turned pimp who sees his girls go missing one after the other faces Young-min (Ha Jung-woo, The Handmaiden) the psychopathic serial killer who targets call girls.

Kim-Yoon Seok’s dirtbag performance as deadbeat Joong-ho is stellar. Well liked, he still carries a lot of weight as a well known former cop who accepted bribes. Detached from his own behaviour and consequences, we are not sympathetic to the character, who believes himself to be above the law though ultimately due to his shady business ventures, it is him who is to blame for putting the women in harm's way. Paranoid, he suspects the girls have quit and run off or worse, sold. 

After another girl goes missing Joong-ho forces Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee) into work for the evening. Unwell with the cold due to all the rain, Mi-jin is cared for by her young daughter Eun-ji, played by Kim Yoo-jung who is a standout amongst the morally corrupt in this world. Looking through his scribbled notes for a lead, Joong-ho notices a number ending in 4885 as the last customer linked with the missing girls, the same customer Mi-jin is sent to. Like a scene from 'LA Noire', we hear a mysterious clue jingle whenever the rogue ex-cop is on to something as he thinks he has it all figured out. Speculating 4885 is to blame for trafficking his girls, Mi-jin is used to assist in the pursuit, though a sense of dread builds rapidly as we know that is not quite the case. The set up for a plan that we know is going to fail as another girl is in peril.

The Chaser Film Review

Brutal beatings ensue followed by a frantic, heart racing shot to perfection chase sequence between the two men, who coincidentally cross paths in hilarious form before both being arrested. This section feels like it's from another movie, one more of a black comedy with the driest delivery and forthcomingness from the psychopathic killer when questioned by police. Not sparing the details, Jung-woo’s performance is fantastic in these scenes as he scrapes by with no conscience, remorseless and almost dead behind the eyes. The nihilistic world in which this is set is so depressing and unrelenting. Topped off with a justice system that fails at every corner, we see the disgraced cop as our only hope. The cigarette smoking man who stops at nothing, dishing out casual beatings and launching chairs at anyone standing or cowering in his path does more to antagonise the police and misdirect their attention away from the killer.

Due to the pressures on the police after some bad press, they can’t afford to mess this up and withholding a suspect without evidence who appears to be beaten is not the look they need right now. It’s interesting as we face the killer in the opening moments knowing what he’s capable of, though it takes the others some convincing. Thinking this is about to fall under the ‘Guys Having a Bad Night’ movie category, night turns to day with masterful suspense. Followed by the head shaking depiction of the police and abhorrent shitshow that transpires with the mayor and the media, the film then turns to a rat race in the hills to find the exact location of the girls and if there is enough time to save them.

The Chaser Film Review

Though there are graphic, gory moments that are unsettling, Ha Hong-jin decides against showing extreme violence just for the sake of it and changes his approach throughout the film. The setting feels claustrophobic though despite the grim depths of disparity, the cinematography of the city is beautiful in the rain as is the slow-motion existential shots of a hopeless Joong-ho smoking in his trench coat. There is a shift with Joong-ho’s hero complex from caring about nothing except money, he is then challenged to aid in caring for Eun-ji. The young girl is a survivalist, strong and very smart, as she questions him not giving up on finding her mum. There are also lighter moments between the two that show the films depth with Joong-ho unwillingly stepping in poorly to provide brief guardianship to Mi-jin’s daughter. The unlikely due akin to Cassavetes’ 'Gloria' or more famously 'Leon the Professional'.

The architecture of the place is huge in the story and almost acts menacing when getting further up the hill towards the concealed house and the ominous glowing cross. We feel the fatigue of the characters as each house must be checked, meanwhile back at the murder ranch Mi-jin has been left for dead in a filthy tiled bathroom that appears to be straight from 'Saw'

The Chaser Film Review

The film has a great portion in the middle focused on the police and the film becomes more courtroom drama rather than psychological thriller, allowing us space to breath before returning to the chase, the violence and tense moments. In a world where the police look more favourably at a serial killer than a corrupt cop turned pimp, they are more mostly concerned about being insulted. The brutal way in which the story unfolds is unforgiving and will knock the wind out of you. The convoluted judicial system is embarrassing and confusing, taking some work to wrap your head around the clown show political tactics that force us to turn to the antihero. An interesting commentary on the inadequacies of the police with their feeble attempts and timidness with the killer during their soft approach. 

The subplot with religious themes doesn’t really work as it’s barely touched on for most of the film and only as a footnote. It leads to some dramatic and interesting shots but didn’t leave a lasting impression that it was integral to the character involved. These elements felt a little too close to 'Se7en' ripoff and less of its own thing. In the press release Ha Hong-jin compared the film to the story of two surviving dogs in an abandoned village after a bout of unending rain. One holding the other in the clenches of its jaws. A gripping tale, with twists and turns and a level of pessimism rarely achieved with its western counterparts. For fans of Park Chan-wook's 'Oldboy' and Kim Jee-woon's 'I Saw the Devil'.

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

-Gary McIlhagga

'The Chaser' is on Digital Platforms from April 8th. 

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