Saturday, August 27, 2011

Troubleshooter (Hae-gyeol-sa) 2010

Sol Kyung-gu has been one of Korea’s most bankable stars since Kang Woo-suk’s Public Enemy trilogy hijacked the box office in 2002 and I have already taken some time to discuss his career up until this point with my review of his other 2010 thriller No Mercy. His bankability which now seems to be borne out of his suffocating typecasting rather than his immense acting ability succeeded in bringing this film great success at the local box office. The only differences (from a narrative standpoint) between Troubleshooter and the aforementioned No Mercy is that is that Sol sports a slightly longer, shaggier hairstyle and is a much better fighter (invincible nearly). Besides that we are still left with a character who operates on the fringe of the police, is a single father, has his daughter kidnapped, and must do his aggressor’s bidding. No Mercy begins with the kidnapping whereas Troubleshooter starts with Sol being framed for murder but with those opening shots, which reveal the somewhat troubled nature of his relationship with his young daughter, it is inevitable that she will get taken at some point.

Kang (Sol Kyung-gu) gets framed
It sounds as though I am attacking the film for a lack of originality and a stubborn reliance on tried and tested formula. While this may be true I am more forgiving towards this film than I was towards No Mercy. The reason being that this is a deliberately simple narrative that is rendered very effectively. It also seems like a test of some sorts for rookie director Kwon Hyeok-jae who has come out from under the wings of the formidable Ryoo Seung-wan, director of Crying Fist (2005), The City of Violence (2006), and The Unjust (2010), who serves as producer here.

Sol Kyung-gu plays Kang Tae-sik, a private detective, or self-described Troubleshooter. Kang goes on a simple job and finds a dead body, it quickly becomes clear that he is being framed for the murder and he receives a call from the orchestrator of the scene who now blackmails him to do his bidding if he is to receive the evidence that will prove his innocence.

Really simple stuff but it gets going very quickly and requires limited exposition. Unlike other Korean films Troubleshooter hardly falls back on melodrama, instead remaining firmly rooted in the present as it thunders on at a breathless pace. That is not to say that there aren’t certain moment that drag and a few scenes that could have been trimmed or cut out but as a rookie effort it displays a keen understanding of pace and structure and a mature appreciation of brevity. In addition, the dissemination of information in this mystery/action film is thoughtfully calculated, sustaining our interest over the entire running time.

Great fight scenes
As you would expect from a film that features Ryoo’s name somewhere in the credits, the action scenes, particularly the tightly-choreographed fight sequences are typically impressive and hard-hitting. Jeong Doo-hong, Ryoo’s longtime martial arts choreographer brings his particular brand of quick and inventive fighting techniques and applies them to Sol’s character. The scenes that result are very impressive and will satisfy any action cravings, as long as you accept it. As great as the scenes were, I felt it was a little contrived that this private eye would be such an expert and quasi-unbeatable martial arts expert. Had the film taken place in an alternate, more stylized universe, such as a comic book adaptation for example, I might well have accepted it but as it stands, his skills seem a little incongruous. A small complaint though, given how thrilling the fight sequences are.

The main problem with the film for me was when it deviated from the immediate action involving Kang and his antagonist. The police scenes had something quite off about them and this surprised and disappointed me, not least because the lead detective on the case was played by my favorite character actor in Korea. The inimitable Oh Dal-su has incarnated some of the most memorable characters in Korean cinema (Oldboy, 2003; The Show Must Go On, 2007; Thirst, 2009; The Servant, 2010) and has served as the principal foil to some of it’s greatest protagonists, but here what is supposed to have an air of sardonic wit seems tired and decidedly flat. I am reticent to blame Oh’s portrayal of his character as I think this is likely an error in judgment on the part of the director. I can see what he was trying to do as he both pays homage to the slick investigatory style of Hollywood while also sending it up with a playful cynicism. But the scenes end up being far too dry and the comedy sometimes gets lost in the deliberate downplaying of the mise-en-scene. Thankfully in as the narrative progresses and Oh and Sol get to share screen time, these problems evaporate and Oh manages to impress yet again in a small role.

Oh Dal-su in the dry police segments
On the back of this strong and technically proficient genre entry, I must say that I am very exited for the next project that Kwon Hyeok-jae will undertake, I just hope that it will be a slightly more complex work. Given it’s strong central performance, excellent production values, and effective pacing, Troubleshooter is a film that is well worth your time, just don’t expect to see anything you haven’t before.

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  1. I really enjoyed the scenes with Oh Dalsu and his lacky in the movie, Song Saebyeok.

  2. I did think they were a little too dry but I enjoyed them all the same. Love Oh Dal-su!