Three top Korean actors join forces for the grim tale of a serial killer who refuses to reveal where he hid the bodies…
Serial killer yarns are incredibly popular in Korean cinema, with every year throwing up at least a handful of new genre entries, most of which have fairly similar plots. With The Deal, first time director Son Yong-ho attempts to serve up something at least a little different, backed by a heavy hitting cast headlined by Kim Sang-kyung (Memories of Murder), Park Sung-woong (New World) and Kim Sung-kyun (Kundo: Age of the Rampant), and adding in a mystery element alongside the usual police procedural. The mix proved a popular one with Korean audiences, and despite its adult content the film opened at the top of the domestic box office before going on to enjoy a highly successful run.
Kim Sang-kyung plays detective Tae Soo, who catches serial killer Gang Chun (Park Sung-woong) and ends his reign of terror at least party by good luck after a hit and run accident gives him away. Tae Soo’s happiness is soon dashed when he learns that Gang Chun’s last victim was in fact his own younger sister Soo Kyung (Yoon Seung-ah, The Legacy), whose fate the smirking psycho refuses to divulge, leaving him and his tormented brother-in-law Seung Hyun (Kim Sung-kyun) without closure. Three years later, and with Gang Chun still sitting on death row and keeping the location of Soo Kyung’s and other bodies to himself, Tae Soo tries to get on with his life, throwing himself into his work, only to find his latest case involving the killing of a gang boss unexpectedly linked to the now-missing Seung Hyun.
The Deal obviously covers a lot of familiar ground, and in most key aspects sticks to the path trodden by so many other Korean serial killer dramas – Memories of Murder in particular looms large thanks to the presence of Kim Sang-kyung. The main, and perhaps only real difference here is in that its villain is not only revealed but captured early on, the film’s focus shifting to the effects his evil actions have had on those connected to the victims. To be fair, whilst not exactly ground-breaking this approach works quite well, playing upon the frustration and anger felt by Tae Soo and Seung Hyun thanks to Gang Chun enjoying a comfortable life behind bars at the tax payers’ expense, and tapping into the debate revolving around capital punishment in Korea, the country not having carried out an execution since 1997. Exploring the ways in which such crimes and tragedies can change everyone involved, the film has an edgy and initially more grounded kind of tension, and the early stages are gripping and carry a genuine punch.
At the same time, Son Yong-ho still shows a reluctance to move beyond the clichés, in particular when it comes to the characters, Tae Soo being the same kind of harried lawman Kim San-kyung played in Memories of Murder and Park Sung-woong turning out to be the unlikely muscled, good-looking and suave killer that turns up in this kind of Korean film. Seung Hyun proves to be the most interesting of the three, though is sadly left rather undeveloped, and as a result despite some good performances from the cast the film never achieves the kind of emotional attachment that would have really upped the suspense, becoming increasingly reliant upon genre mechanics and daft plot twists. Things do get pretty far out before the end, and the foolishness of the final act might well turn off those few viewers who haven’t guessed the final shock revelation, signposted quite clearly by the film’s English title and Son’s obvious fondness for Hitchcock.
The film is similarly unoriginal when it comes to Son’s direction, and though he shows promise and confidence as a first time helmer, all the usual check boxes of the form are duly ticked, from an overabundance of rain through to the expected chase scenes and knife fights. On the plus side, all of this is perfectly well-handled, and the film does generally hit its targets, moving briskly throughout its short and efficient running time and offering up some solid set pieces and moments of shock.
While none of this is enough to make The Deal a great or remarkable film, it’s nevertheless an above average Korean serial killer outing that performs well without diverting from the formula. Entertaining in its own unambitious way, the film should be enjoyed by fans of either the cast or the type, Son Yong-ho suggesting that he might well move onwards and upwards to better and more interesting things.