- BOTTOM LINE: A Passable Korean Thriller
|Platform: Netflix||Genre: Action|
What is the Story about?
Jo Pil-Ho is a petty cop who bribes small-time criminals and thugs in return to keep the record-books clean. This keeps his existence going, often inviting the wrath of internal affairs team within his department. On a fateful night, he finds himself on the wrong side of the law when he decides to steal money from a police storehouse, where he’s joined by his accomplice Han Ki-Chul. However, things turn from bad to worse when there’s an unexpected explosion at the warehouse and Han Ki-Chul is found dead at the site. Jo Pil-Ho remains the only witness to the incident and is suspected by the prosecutors to have had some involvement behind the explosion. Over time, Pil-Ho realises that he’s a mere pawn in a wicked game as he meets a 16-year old Mina, who could be his only help to prove his innocence in the case. A cop who considers himself corrupt finds that the world around him is even more vicious.
Lee Sun-Kyun, essaying the title role, manages to carry the film on his own shoulders and make the transformation of his character all the more effective. His tough exterior and the gradual unmasking of his softer shades make for a good character graph. Jeon So-Nee, as the troubled teenager in a dysfunctional family, shows promise during her minimal portions and shares an interesting on-screen equation with her co-actor Lee Sun-Kyun.
Filmmaker Lee Jeong-Beom, who directed the much acclaimed ‘The Man from Nowhere’ in the past, brings in a film that consistently engages, even if doesn’t keep you on your toes always. A gritty crime thriller exposing the underbelly of the corporate mafia in a Korean State, the film huffs and puffs to take off eventually in the second hour. Once it gets going though, the layers of the film emerge and there’s a wonderful nuance in the action segments and atmosphere built around the crime backdrop that’s very typical to Korean thrillers. The story, if not for the specific regional references, still has a sense of universality to it.
It’s interesting that a video emerging from the explosion site, on the which the entire film revolves, is never shown to the viewer. You’re just informed that the video could possibly mean curtains to the empire of a corporate baron. The extent to which the corporate honcho could go to secure his position in the society provides you with all the chills. Also, watch out for the pre-climactic sequence where the protagonist unravels his gun in the washroom, it’s the stuff iconic action segments are made up of. The director’s strength is his detailing and mysterious treatment. The best character in the film is its protagonist Jo Pil-Ho and his transformation from a mindless cop to a man who finds a greater purpose to life is established well.
Yet, why doesn’t the film still live up to the promise completely? Blame it on the half-baked characterisation (excepting the lead character) and the unnecessary focus on familiar tropes in a crime thriller. Say, there’s an awkward yet interesting equation that binds Jo Pil-Ho and Mina together in the crime scene. Just when you thought their track would give the film its emotional layering, the director seems more invested in building the aura surrounding a big-time business honcho Jung Yi-Hyang, who barely appears menacing. But for the protagonist, the other characters aren’t written with much care. The climax, inspired by a realtime school-shooting incident that consumed over 250 lives in Sewol, doesn’t provide a good finishing touch. However, there’s a surprise element in the ending that could have multiple interpretations. Not at all a bad way to get the end-credits rolling!
Park Byung-Eun and Park Hae-Joon, play the puppets of the corporate major and their presence in the film doesn’t mean much beyond sending a few vile threats to the protagonist, acting bigger than what they appear to be. Song Young-Chang, as the stinkingly rich Jung Yi-Hyang, isn’t really the antagonist the film deserved. The role of Jung Yi-Hyang is restricted to awkward glances and sending a few goons to finish whoever comes his way. Song Young, at best, is sincere, in bringing some panache to a stereotyped role.
Music and other departments?
The technical proficiency in Jo Pil-ho: The Dawning Rage is every reason that the director’s vision of a gritty crime thriller comes true. The background score and sound design of the film complement the ever-changing intensity in the plot. The film ends with a lullaby-like number that stays with you long after the viewing. This experience comes alive with the innovative cinematography, thanks to smart colour-play, visual detailing, use of shadows and also minimalism in the right measure. The editing feels choppy at times and the connection between several sequences appears astray.
Lee Sun-Kyun’s performance
Well choreographed action sequences
The cliched portrayal of the antagonist minus appeal
The hurried, ambiguous ending
Slow to take off
Will you recommend it?
Yes with reservations
Review by Srivathsan N
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