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The Chaser (Film Review)

3 min read

The Chaser follows Joong-ho (), a cop-turned-pimp frustrated by a recent lack of employee attrition. Two of his girls have upped and left, and it seems like others might be getting ready to follow suit—the violence and scummy men that they have to deal with don't make for the best working environment.

Joong-ho is annoyed that he's losing money. The police are concerned that a car, left by the side of the road, has been parked illegally. The only people concerned about the disappearance of the women are, of course, other prostitutes.

There's very little that's surprising about The Chaser's set-up. A man, Ji Yeong-min (), is killing prostitutes because he's impotent. We meet him in the midst of his serial spree, following Kim Mi-jin (), another of Joong-ho's girls, as she accompanies Yeong-min to a large, slightly run down-looking house.

It's not a novel concept, and although there are interesting twists throughout the story it feels a little overdone. That's not helped by the fact that female characters are never more than passing plot devices; prostitutes who appear once to provide a clue, older women who serve as easy marks to Yeong-min's bloodlust and, a sole female detective who seems to have been included just so that the killer can deliver a few creepy lines to her while in custody.

This lack of characterisation isn't exclusive to the women; aside from a brief scene with his sister, we don't know much about Yeong-min. Joong-ho, too, exists in something of a vacuum, and despite the complexity of his motives, morals and relationship with the law, a certain depth is missing from his person.

On an aesthetic level, The Chaser has a visceral aesthetic to it that sways from the revolting to the beautiful. Scenes of grimy, bloodstained bathrooms are juxtaposed with raindrops falling from a branch as the city lights twinkle in the background. Shots of Seoul's winding, hilly streets contrast with closeups of Joong-ho brushing his teeth, close enough to make you recoil.

Violence, ever present, is often left un-soundtracked. The score is effective in its subtlety, forcing the viewer to focus entirely on the moments of savagery on screen. There's nothing artistic about this brutality, we're told; none of this can be romanticised.

The Chaser is not a mystery. It's not a who, why or how-dunnit rather than a study of complete police incompetence, the devaluing of those in society who are seen as expendable and the depravity of humanity. Any moments of hope are quashed just as you start to believe in them.

It's a bleak watch, although strangely light at times with comic passages that sometimes fall slightly short of the mark. Scenes between Joong-ho and Mi-jin's young daughter, Eun-ji (), play on the popular dynamic of ‘grumpy older man and cute, sarcastic child', but despite the actors' strong performances they jar uncomfortably with the darkness of the central plot.

The Chaser is a compelling watch; although it may not surprise in its concept, its execution makes it something that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

The Chaser will be available on digital platforms from 8 April