Film Review: 'The Chaser'

Bottom line: A disturbing murder thriller with haunting mood play and high-strung tension.

Cannes Film Festival, Out of Competition

It's no fluke that "The Chaser" enjoyed a notable long run at Korea's slumming local market and got snapped up by Warner Bros. for a remake. The subject of "The Chaser" -- a serial killer who hammers a chisel into prostitutes' heads -- is morbidly fascinating. It also plays a wily game with the audience, satisfying their bloodlust while frustrating expectations of how such crimes should be solved, and indeed how such films should be made.

It should easily pin down theatrical dates around Asia and niche markets in the West and hit the nail on the head for overseas DVD sales.

Usually, serial killer films keep the audience guessing till the end, but director Na Hong-jin reveals his identity in 20 minutes. There are no red herrings, and the script even dispenses with the other rule in the book -- solving the mystery of motive. The protagonist also is unconventional -- a frazzled ex-detective turned pimp who gets his adrenalin from guilt over the prostitutes' plight.

The film branches out to touch on human fallibility and system failure. For this reason, it has been compared with Bong Joon-ho's superior "Memories of Murder" and comes closer to "Zodiac" in its cynicism and resistance to closure.

The climax is in the first act. It contains a chilling mis-en-scene of dark foliage that is a veritable fallen eden, a thrilling montage that crosscuts between the killer's attack and the pimp's frantic search, and the action lives up to its title with a heart-stopping and brilliantly edited chase through alleys and steps. The narrative loses steam midway and only clicks into place when the pimp's race to find the survivor converges with the killer's comeback.

"The Chaser" is a not flawless gem. The script is pierced through with improbabilities and, like many Korean films, just when the finale is in sight, the plot runs through at least five more endings before reaching the finishing line. Nonetheless, the tight time-frame gives the excellent cast a chance to play with intensity, making even old genre hands hold their breath and feel their minds sufficiently shaken up.

Cast: Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yeong-hie
Writer-Director: Na Hong-jin
Executive producer: Chin Hee-mon
Director of photography: Lee Sung-je
Production designer: Lee Min-bok
Editor: Kim Sun-min
Sales: Showbox/Finecut/Dire/Haut et Court
No rating, 125 minutes.