The Chaser (2008)

Director:  Na Hong-Jin
Cast:  Yun-seok KimJung-woo HaYeong-hie Seo
Plot:  Joong-ho is a dirty detective turned pimp in financial trouble as several of his girls have recently disappeared without clearing their debts. While trying to track them down, he finds a clue that the vanished girls were all called up by a same client whom one of his girls is meeting with right now.

Genre:  Crime / Drama / Thriller
Awards:  Nom. for Camera d'Or (Cannes)
Runtime:  125min
Rating:  M18 for violence. 


The Korean film industry which had been relatively stagnant for the past year has to thank Na Hong-Jin for its recent revival.  His film, The Chaser, has smashed box-office records and is on track to be the No. 1 Korean movie of the year.  In his debut film, Hong-Jin has made a motion picture that gives Hollywood thrillers a run for their money. 

The Chaser, which has influences from traditional crime thrillers, largely owes its success to the manner in which these traditional conventions are broken.  It breathes new life into a genre that has been plagued by cinematic cliches. 

Although this is his first feature film, there are neither signs of jitters nor is there a lack of self-confidence from Hong-Jin.  He directs The Chaser with the skill and experience of a seasoned concert pianist.  There is a heightened sense of realism in most scenes, and many of these are shot with a composed camera and are decisively edited. 

Hong-Jin bravely elects to reveal certain parts of the plot early in the film such as the identity of the serial killer who tortures and murders unsuspecting prostitutes with a hammer and a chisel.  These do not in any way affect the experience of viewers.  In fact, this is key to establishing the context in which a twisted cat-and-mouse game could be played. 

The feeling of unease, dread, and the morbid mood of the film is the direct result of excellent cinematography,
the taut direction, and the uncompromising acting.  Boasting two fine performances by Kim Yun-Seok (who plays an ex-cop and boss of a prostitution ring) and Ha Jung-Woo (who plays the sadistic killer), The Chaser explores the psyche of a madman and the humanness of a corrupted soul whose paths are crossed inadvertently. 

The director easily cranks up the suspense with loud, high-octane percussive drumming during 'chase sequences', and induces repulsion through gory and disturbing images (like a woman's decapitated head in a brightly-lit aquarium). 

The Chaser is also critical of the police force (which may or may not be referring to their own) whose delayed reaction and hesitant response can be potentially fatal.  There are shocking mo
ments and revelations in the film that will hit viewers unexpectedly; this is where the film is successful in its attempt to challenge viewers’ mindset and the genre's cliches. 

The Chaser is a solid thriller that completely entertains, marking a promising flag-off to the career of Na Hong-Jin. 

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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