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The Chaser (Na Hong-jin, 2008) 53

 

     The Chaser, the debut film from South Korean director Na Hong-jin, is a sensationalistic and slickly produced police drama that goes further than most in exposing its audience to urban degradation and a murky sense of goodness. Featuring an antihero, ex-cop pimp in the lead role, and an entire force of corrupt and abusive police behind him, the movie leaves little room for a voice of moral rectitude. Recalling Bong Joon-hoís Memories of Murder in its tonal shifts, its ultimately downbeat outlook, and its subject matter, The Chaser is doubly impressive for being a first feature.

 

     In a change of pace from most serial killer films, thereís little tension about the identity of the murderer here. Well before the halfway point of The Chaser, the killer (played with unending sliminess by Ha Jung-woo) is in police custody. The rest of the movie becomes a question of whether or not the police will realize who they have on their hands and book him before they are forced to release him due to a twelve hour holding limit. This scenario is intensified by the fact that a final victim still waits, trapped in the murderís dank home. The inversion of the plot usually found in the genre shifts the audienceís focus from the killer to the police themselves. Much of the genuine horror here comes from bearing witness to the corruption, indifference, and abuse that seem to be standard operating procedure for the Korean cops.

 

     This shift toward social commentary is welcome, as the mere presence of the serial killer plot seems like it would have been unlikely to sustain interest. When the killer is first shown committing one of his brutal hammer murders in an extended torture sequence, the film effectively grabs audience attention, but that effectiveness is soon diluted somewhat once the conventional motivations of the murderer come clear. Heís too clearly insane to be as intimidating as he might be otherwise. Similarly, the near-misses and sheer contrivances of the plot begin to reduce meaning, as opposed to build tension, as they pile up during the course of the movie. Itís quite obvious that this is all meant to entertain and thrill audiences first, and only secondarily disturb and provoke us. Nonetheless, the ending of The Chaser hits hard, literally and figuratively. It announces Na Hong-jin as a filmmaker willing to go to places that even most so-called horror movies would shy away from.

 

53 

Jeremy Heilman 

07.20.08