Lee Myung-Se has justifiably acquired fans at festivals and retrospectives through films such as "Gagman", which – in terms of narrative structure and style – was a real shot in the arm for Korean cinema. Coming of age in the late 80s as a keen member of the Korean New Wave, he proved particularly able to manipulate cinematic time and space. Throughout his films he has also proved very stylish.
Unfortunately, style is the big winner here. As if all too aware of the super-slim story which he himself has concocted, the director not only coats every scene with the deep, shiny gloss of a commercial’s director but – presumably to force an air of mystery – has you peering into the gloom (there is hardly a scene not shot at night or in the shadows) to work out what is going on.
What is going on is basically an extended chase. Opening with a drug boss being stabbed to death on some beautifully lit steps (during which the blood leaking from his head resembles a streak of red paint being applied to an exquisitely composed painting), the film then follows the endeavours of two clichéd cops (one an off-the-leash maverick, the other a polite family man) who are determined at all costs to nail the drug world’s Mr Big. This involves severe beatings in darkened backyards, terrifying the kingpin’s girlfriend and dressing up as ticket inspectors on a train, the later sounding much more amusing than it actually is. There is, in fact, barely an action set-piece which is not utterly routine, over-choreographed and, finally, exhausting. One of them is even that tired old number in which Mr Big, who could so easily have been shot by a cop, is allowed to survive just to prolong the film.
Lee Myung-Se’s known technical abilities add nothing at all, while his idea of irony is to pile on beautiful music. A skinny little mediocrity of a film, all dressed up with no place to go, except towards more violence.