If I had to summarize in a sentence what I think makes “The chaser” a fantastic movie, it would sound something like: Simple concepts taken to new grounds and executed impeccably. The movie has a simple story premise and a simple action motif but it takes both story and action to exciting new grounds and executes those ideas perfectly. The movie does stumble in a few spots and some parts are not as good as others, but overall I personally rate this movie very highly and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a couple of hours to spent and wants something new and exciting.
One of my favorite aspects of this movie is its deceptively simple premise: An ex-cop turned pimp starts to investigate how some of his girls manage to run away from him. What I love about this premise is that the narrative potential is used fully, with the story exceeding the expected thrills from action thrillers of this type to deliver an emotionally twisting and satisfying tale of mystery and suspense. Moreover, it is used to criticize a lot of related social aspects such as people stirring themselves so far from course because of greed or disappointment with the status quo and cops neglecting urgent cases for pressing political issues thus giving the movie and its world a more realistic and meaningful feel to them, as well as characters that are varied, deep and satisfying to explore through the movie. However, my favorite aspect of the movie is how it seamlessly shifts from a breath-holding, anxious and adrenaline rush of an action thriller with elements borrowed from mysteries and suspense thrillers to something completely different for the end which somehow feels completely earned and satisfying.
As much as the story surprises you with its unexpected depth and nuance, the real star of the movie is the action set pieces that adhere to a simple premise once again: realistic chase scenes. You may be thinking that you’ve seen such chase scenes before, but trust me it’s one thing to watch a 2-second close up shot of Tom Cruise chasing someone and then a cut to a wide shot and then a close up again, and it’s a whole other rush when you see a 20-second wide shot of two actors running at full speed; yes the soundtrack does wonders to get your blood pumping and yes there are cut away shots but it’s not going for the unedited, uncut movie spectacle like John Wick action scenes or the infamous Oldboy corridor scene. What it’s trying to achieve is realism; actors get fatigued from running full speed for two blocks and sometimes stumble over while other times they catch up to each other and stall the fight, so they can catch their breath. This adds to the frantic feel of the movie as the story does actually feel like a crazy night; the characters start the movie fresh but during the course become less and less energetic. There are also fight scenes that add to the realism the movie goes for; punches sound real and not movie punches as characters react realistically to them: Their faces swell and get bruised before the blood starts showing up and getting up from such a violent beat up would cause most people to fall over again as these characters do numerous times. Also, this is a really gory and brutal movie which does not shy away from showing anything so be warned those of limited tolerance for gore.
Characters are another section where the movie excels but it is also where the movie has its only real drawbacks. While the main two characters, our protagonist Joong-ho Eom and our antagonist Young-min Jee, are well executed, most of the surrounding cast is disregarded even those that are important to the plot and for our investment in the stakes of the movie. Firstly, Joong-ho is, as a protagonist, very well done; as an ex-detective who turned pimp, he is very clearly shown to be on the wrong path. We see the way he treats people in the beginning and the way people look at him, but we also see the reasons for this change and he is already a more interesting character than most other thriller protagonists and without spoiling anything, he also has an appropriate character arc.
The antagonist, Young-min, is also excellent; he is appropriately creepy, smart and menacing while he gets some development as to why he does what he does. The most important thing he achieves is that I feared and loathed him, which was hopefully the intended result. However, most other characters are not given the same care as these two even though some of them are equally important; for example Mi-Jin is one of Joong-Ho’s girls and an important part of the narrative, however the only thing we know about her is that she is a mum and that she would do anything for her daughter. Other less important characters get the same treatment as well, such as the cops being stereotypical cops and Meathead-Joong-Ho’s right-hand man- literally being a Meathead with no other discernable character traits. I could excuse this for less important characters; however there are specifically two characters that would have made my experience so much better had they been allowed to develop, like the two main characters.
If you couldn’t tell from reading this recommendation, I absolutely love this movie and rank it very high regardless of country of origin or genre. When I first saw it, I was already aware of the talent and potential nurtured in the Korean cinema; however this was so fresh and so close to my sensibilities and likings that it immediately became one of my favorites. Thus, I cannot recommend this movie enough; if you have a couple of hours to spent, find this movie (with subtitles, unless you speak Korean) and see it.