Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: THE CHASE Leads Us Down Familiar Path

By Pierce Conran

An intriguing, if admittedly low-key twist on the Korean serial killer chiller never really comes together in the mediocre The Chase, the third film from The Con Artists helmer Kim Hong-sun. Leading man Baek Yoon-sik (of Save the Green Planet fame) lays on a heavy accent as he shuffles through an incongruous medley of gore and levity that rarely strays from its middle-of-the-road trajectory.

The elderly begin to turn up dead in Aridong, a grimy neighborhood in Southern Korea and the only person beginning to connect the dots is a curmudgeonly landlord who constantly pesters his tenants for rent. The cops write off the seemingly unconnected deaths as accidents but when a strange man appears before the landlord with some crazy theories, they both venture further down the rabbit hole.

With its vibrant port town location and colorful dialects, The Chase adds an intriguing sheen to its run-of-the-mill serial killer elements, which prove satisfactory to fans of the genre without pushing the envelope. The film indulges in unusual protagonists, which mask the slightly bloated running time, at least until it reaches a protracted ending that fails to surprise.

Disappointingly, the film fails to stick to its guns with its geriatric-led thriller premise. As we reach a rain-soaked finale, Kim seems to have forgotten who his characters are, who by this point are almost indistinguishable from the younger male detectives who litter these kinds of films. By this point, the film loses the fun of seeing unusual characters reacting to familiar settings, which up until then had been its strongest asset.

Director Kim is no stranger to grisly thrillers, having debuted with the cruise-ship organ trafficking thriller The Traffickers five years ago, and he touches on the macabre once more in his latest. Yet these morose genre elements are often in conflict with the film's overtly commercial sensibilities as slapstick humor, cafe romance and some surprisingly poppy soundtrack choices create an uneven tone.

Baek Yoon-sik lends his delightfully unusual cadence, which is further accented this time around with a local regional dialect, to his grumpy and petulant landlord. It's a pleasure to see him squawk at his late-paying tenants or fresh body discoveries, even if the depth of the character doesn't match the performance. Meanwhile, the ever-reliable Sung Dong-il (Take Off) gives his best as the ex-detective with a few screws loose who teams up with the landlord, but as written, the character is over-the-top and demands a caricatured performance, which makes him stand out for the wrong reasons.

With this third effort, Kim initially seems to strive for something a little different but ultimately seems quite comfortable styling effective but familiar Korean genre thrills. And while it's great to see the inimitably miserly Baek Yoon-sik on the hunt for a serial killer, an emphasis on characterization over idiosyncrasies might have yielded a more memorable character. All-in-all, despite some frustrating elements, The Chase is worth a cautious look for Korean thriller fans.

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