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March 28, 2009

Philadelphia Film Festival 2009: The Chaser


Na Hong-jin - 2008
Showbox 35mm film

What makes The Chaser worth seeing is not so much the twists and turns of the plot, as much as how the main character, a pimp named Joong-ho, slowly becomes sympathetic, if not totally heroic. Unlike some of the recent Korean films I've seen, part of what is shown of Seoul is not the glitzy, modern city of towering apartments, but a section of older houses with streets that turn into cul-de-sacs and barely a pedestrian to be seen.

Jung-ho thinks his girls are running away or have been taken by a competitor. Realizing that the disappearance of some of the girls coincides with appointments with one of the clients, Jung-ho seeks out the man. What is discovered is more than imagined. The police are brought in, but what ensues is an investigation bungled by incompetence, competing units, and misdirected pride. At the same time Jung-ho is seeking out his mystery man, the Mayor of Seoul is daubed with shit from a protester. For a while it seems like protecting the Mayor takes priority. In spite of obstacles, Jung-ho bulldozes his way to bring the man, Young-min, to justice.


Taking place over the course of two days, the film depicts Jung-ho's changing relationship with women. For Jung-ho, the prostitutes that work for him are primarily commodities, their value based on how much money they bring in. For the clients, the prostitutes are only of worth in their compliance in fulfilling the demands of the client, no matter how extreme. Jung-ho presents himself as "the guardian" to one of the women when it is discovered that there is more than one man in a hotel room. It is when Jung-ho discovers that the woman, Mi-jin, he sent out to meet Young-min, has a young daughter that he truly takes on the role of guardian.

Just like the streets where some of the action takes place, The Chaser doesn't take a straight path in its narrative. Na Hong-jin makes the film work slowly but surely to create a suspenseful finish. Some of the graphic brutality is less gratuitous as the story develops. By the end of the film, Na needs only to ignite the viewers imagination as to what has become of Young-min's victims. That The Chaser is a well made thriller by current standards should be mentioned. What was not expected was that by the last half hour, Na's feature debut became emotionally wrenching.

The Chaser is screening March 30 and April 1.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 28, 2009 12:33 AM