An utterly ridiculous and over-the-top action movie from director Won Shin-yeon (Seven Days, A Bloody Aria), but at least it knows what it is…
The suspect in question is Dong-cheol (Gong Yoo, Silenced, Finding Mr. Destiny, Coffee Prince), a North Korean defector accused of murdering Chairman Park, a businessman with connections with Pyongyang for whom he worked as a chauffeur. He didn’t do it, of course; framed by high-ranking NIS bureaucrat Kim Seok-Ho (Cho Seong-Ha, Pluto, Helpless, The Yellow Sea, Spider Forest), who is in fact playing both sides for his own personal gain. In his dying breath, Park gives Dong-cheol a pair of glasses with instructions to ‘bury them’. But Dong-cheol had his own agenda for defecting to the South: to seek revenge on the murder of his family.
Holding a personal grudge against Dong-cheol, Colonel Min Se-hoon (Park Hee-soon, Behind the Camera, Hansel and Gretel, Seven Days, Three: ‘Memories’) is called back from training cadets to chase him down, as the authorities use surveillance across Seoul in what could easily be a nod to Tony Scott’s a Enemy Of a The State. There with old friend Captain Jo (Jo Jae-Yun, Miracle in Cell No.7, The Man From Nowhere, Romance Joe), they begin to cotton on to there being more going than a manhunt for a defector gone wild. Meanwhile, Dong-cheol discovers his daughter could still be alive. Turning to his only ally, reporter Choi Gyung-Hee (You Da-In, The Client, Re-encounter) – allegedly working on a documentary about former defectors, but actually working on something more significant, hidden away in a Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance DVD case – they begin to unravel the truth.
As is typical in such roles, Gong Yoo makes for a rather anodyne hero. Part Won Bin in The Man From Nowhere, part Yoon Kye-sang in Poongsan (who was originally cast in the role before he backed out), with maybe a smidgen of Ha Jung-woo in The Berlin File, there’s little character to get behind. Instead, it falls on Park Hee-soon to bring some flavour to the film. Established as a hard arse in his first scene in an utterly outrageous (and actually completely unnecessary) sequence where he is shown jumping out of a plane to save a cadet who’s parachute has malfunctioned. The on screen ribbing between Park and his more ambitious friend Jo Jae-Yun crackles believably.
But it’s the character of Kim Seok-Ho who gets the films best lines, with actor Cho Seong-Ha relishing every moment. ‘Go kill Dong-cheol. Have a duel like you proper commits do!’ he smirks in one scene. Later declaring, ‘Money trumps everything in this country.’ He’s proved wrong, naturally.
It all leads to an ending not unlike Ryoo Seung-wan‘s The Berlin File, with some fantastical salvation thrown in for the famine in North Korea (it’s better you don’t ask). There’s little question that this film tries to follow Ryoo’s model, but thankfully takes itself less seriously. Far less seriously, also circumnavigating the stabbing satire of the Kim Ki-duk scripted Poongsan, or any motivation beyond the desire to make a cracking action film. And largely it succeeds.
The action is well handled by director Won Shin-yeon (Seven Days, The Wig, A Bloody Aria), with chases through malls, shootouts, and close shot hand-to-hand combat. It might not be as inventive as, say, Ryoo might direct, but it’s well choreographed nonetheless, with lead Gong having specially learned Russian martial art Systema for the role. It’s in the car scenes that The Suspect displays the bigger budget of a Showbox production, with a crash tally that might do The Blues Brothers‘ John Landis proud. As well as head on impacts, there’s a lot of high speed driving in reverse down busy roads or even narrow, steep stairways. (Though I have to say from my visit to Korea, random reversing is hardly uncommon!)
Taken at face value, The Suspect is a surprisingly enjoyable once it gets in gear. (The first half hour seems sluggish, and the film is easily some 20 minutes too long.) A daft action film with sparkling dialogue in Lim Sang-Yoon’s (A Company Man) script; it knows exactly what it is. Perhaps you shouldn’t end up rooting for the bad guy quite as much, but it’s hardly the first action that is true of…