I'm a big fan of South Korean cinema. They have some really great, though oftentimes twisted, movies that come out of there. When I first heard about this movie, it was about how disturbing and violent it was. Then I saw who was in it, and my interest shot up even more. As of this review, it's been a couple days since I popped it into my DVD player, and I'm still thinking about it.
It tells the story of Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), a special agent who works for the government and with the police. When his fiancee is killed by the psychotic serial killer Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi), Soo-hyeon enters a cat-and-mouse game with the killer. He follows him around, torturing and beating him every time he gets close to harming another person--never letting Kyung-chul know when the next attack is coming. But is the monster hunter becoming a monster himself?
If you're a fan of South Korean cinema, you should recognize at least one (if not both) of the leads. Min-sik Choi, of course, is our favorite lead badass from Oldboy. Byung-hun Lee, on the other hand, played "The Bad" in The Good The Bad The Weird, an Asian play on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I was really smitten with that film when I watched it back in December, and I cited that Byung-hun Lee was a big reason for it. So just at the start, we have these two powerhouse actors playing against each other--ironically, switching sides between their respective films. And it truly is epic.
There is a bit of a slow start, though. After the brutal opening, there's a (very) small chunk of the movie that felt oddly edited and put together. It was a bit dull, too. Fortunately that doesn't last long, and the cat-and-mouse stuff begins shortly thereafter. The film is slightly less than 2.5 hours, so you're in for a long, hard ride.
The violence is insane. It's not the craziest I've ever seen (looking at you, Takashi Miike), but it's constant and intense. Some of it gets to the point of "how are they surviving this?" primarily with all the head bludgeoning. But you learn to roll with it after a while. And I will admit--there's not a lot that makes me cringe in violent movies these days, but this movie made me... and more than once. And there are a couple points where I felt things were too convenient (how does this serial killer keep coming across other psychopaths?), but one of them is explained, so I dropped that.
There's also some fantastic camera work in this movie. There are a lot of interesting shots, and there's one in particular that stood out. There's an attack in a car between 3 people. The camera just circles them--it would have been cooler as one long take, but there are a couple breaks in between to show the outside of the car weaving in the road. Regardless, it was an amazingly shot scene. And there are a handful of others like it.
This is not a movie that will leave you feeling good, though. By the end, you're worn down and depressed. Sure, it's a (disturbing) thriller, and it ends pretty much as expected, but there's so much emotion and rage and sadness and pain emanating from the film through its main character that by the end, you're conflicted about who you've been rooting for this whole time and upset despite the outcome. And, unfortunately, it does go on a wee bit too long, making it even harder to get through.
Regardless, if you're a fan of South Korean cinema and aren't affected much by strong violence, I do recommend it. It's a very strong film--it's shot well, directed well, written well, and the two powerhouse actors at the helm are fantastic. If this had been directed by Chan-wook Park, it would have fit in pretty perfectly with his Revenge Trilogy. Instead, it was held very well by Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters; The Good The Bad The Weird). I'm definitely gonna keep my eye out for this guy considering how I've taken to his last two efforts, and I do recommend (again) this film, though with a warning that it's not for the squeamish.
(P.S. This was a tough rating, believe it or not. It's not a perfect film, and it's length and somewhat repetitiveness can grate at times. But the acting, car attack scene, and ending alone deserve my love. But for now, let's say it's more of a 4.5 out of 5 than a full 5.)
(P.P.S. I would love to see this guy make a Death Note movie. He'd be perfect.)