'The Target' ('Pyo Jeok'): Cannes Review

'The Target,' Yoon Hong-seung (Un Certain Regard Midnight Screening)
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

A Korean remake of the Fred Cavaye’s 2010 French thriller Point Blank, this features a pulp-heavy plot involving former mercenary Yeo-hoon (Seung-Ryong Ryu) who joins forces with Tae-jun (Lee Jin-wook) to save Tae-jun’s pregnant wife from deadly kidnappers. (Sales: Gaumont/CJ Entertainment)

A serviceable remake outstrips the original in action, melodrama and paranoia.

Korean helmer Chang relocates the French thriller "Point Blank" to Korea, with an ex-hitman having 36 hours to find the real culprit of the murder he was framed for.

It's been a long time since Euro-American critics, for want of an easier classification, had taken to brand South Korean cinema as "extreme" -- but it's a term which describes The Target well. A remake of the otherwise middling French action thriller Point Blank, music-video-director-turned-filmmaker Chang's second feature - following his 2008 debut with the horror film Death Bell – runs with Fred Cabaye's original and dial everything up to 11. 

The film boasts high-octane action scenes devoid of logic – why shoot your way into a police station to rescue someone when you can ram a car straight through it? – and a psychopathic villain who would make any of the Sopranos look like a wimp. The Target also features the melodramatic staples of the pregnant wife and the ailing younger brother, plus a slew of chain-smoking, foul-mouthed female cops.

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Having just made its international premiere at Cannes as an out-of-competition Midnight Screening entry, the film has been a box-office hit since opening in South Korea on Apr. 26. It should prove to be a hit with genre buffs looking for the next hard-knuckle rollercoaster ride.

The original film's odd couple paring of a felon and a square teaming up to fight dirty cops is very much intact, but the level of violence and evil at play is turned up quite a few notches. Not content with Fred Cabaye's partnership of a thief and a nurse, Jeon Cheoul-hong and Jo Seong-geol's screenplay is motored by  ex-mercenary Yeo-hoon (the versatile Ryu Seung-rong, last seen playing a mentally-challenged prisoner in the comedy Miracle in Cell No. 7) and the tall and handsome doctor Tae-jun (soap opera heartthrob Lee Jin-uk).

In an opening sequence which pushes noir markers to extreme – complete with gushing rain – Yeo-hoon is shot by his pursuers, run over by a car and then delivered to the hospital. It is there that reports filter in about the corpse of a property developer being discovered in a building where Yeo-hoon is found, making the man – whom the police identify as a security contractor with a record of working in regional hotspots – the prime suspect of the murder.

Tae-jun comes into the narrative proper when he first foils an attempt on Yeo-hoon's life – and then receives a phone call instructing him to get his patient out of the hospital – if not, his pregnant wife dies. Cue the start of the pair's race against time, with Yeo-hoon trying to clear his name and Tae-jun trying to save his wife. Their efforts are made more complicated as a struggle breaks out within law enforcement ranks, with the battle-hardened detective Young-joo (Kim Song-ryoung) finding her case taken over by a team of goons led by the sleazy Kee-chul (Yu Jun-sang).

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It doesn't take a genius to figure out who the ultimate baddies are – and given the constraints of the original, Chang wouldn't have been able do much in that aspect, something Kim Seong-hun managed to do with A Hard Day, which premiered at the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes just last week. What he could have avoided is to return to the old chestnut of getting people specialized in crying and screaming for help. There's indeed a lot of hysterical hollering here: Lee and Jo Yeo-jung, who plays Tae-jun's wife Hoo-jee, certainly does a lot of that, and so does Yeo-hoon's sick younger brother (Jin Goo); all this excessive drama, however, only takes out the taut tension as consolidated by the chase, the shoot-outs and the double dealings.

As a no-prisoners-held blockbuster, the CJ Entertainment-repped film unapologetically plays on the emotions  of the viewer – and in this lies the remake's most extreme act. While Point Blank has its culprits as a few bad apples in law enforcement, The Target implies the whole system – including law and order as a symbol of state power – is basically rotten to the core, with the main villain of the piece actually decrying Yeo-hoon's pursuit of justice as "a challenge to government authority". Indeed, the bad guys' power and unscrupulousness is incredible – but they are ultimately positioned as just self-regarding foot soldiers of many layers of power players on top of them. It's a point which will please viewers no end, a crazy concept to cover all The Target's astray shots.


Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Midnight Screening), May 22, 2014

Production Company: Barunson, Yong Film

Cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Lee Jin-uk, Kim Sung-ryoung, Jo Yeo-jeong

Director: Chang              

Screenwriter: Jeon Cheoul-hong and Jo Seong-geol, based on Fred Cavaye's 'A Bout Portant' ('Point Blank')

Producers: Syd Lim, Seo Woo-sik, Pak Tae-joon

Executive Producer: Jeong Tae-sung

Director of Photography: Choi Sang-mook

Production Designer:Choi Ki-ho

Costume Designer: An Ji-hyun

Editor: Kim Chang-ju

Music: Park In-young

Sales: CJ Entertainment

In Korean

No rating; 101 minutes