Evidently, there are many crime thrillers coming out of S. Korea, too many someone could even say. Occasionally though, there are some productions that still manage to stand out, and prove that the genre has still something to give. And who else to come up with such a film than Park Hoon-jung, whose credits include “I Saw the Devil” (scriptwriter) and “New World”, two films that are among the top entries in the category. “V.I.P.” continues in the same footsteps.
Detective Chae I-do is one of those detectives whose tactics are not so different than the people he is supposed to be arresting. Violent, constantly smoking and with a no-punches-pulled mentality that has him even breaking the law to achieve his goal, he is a real pain-in-the-ass for the police department. Alas, when his predecessor is found dead, his commander is forced to ask for his help regarding a case of a serial killer that has been shocking Seoul. Chae soon finds the perpetrator, Kim Gwang-Il, a sadistic sociopath who also happens to be a North Korean defector whose dad’s upper-cadre status back home guarantees him South Korean CIA protection. Barely even bothering to cover up his crimes, he left a trail of corpses around the world, trusting that competing intelligence services will always clean up his mess. And, as Chae soon finds out, this involves the CIA, in the face of Agent Paul, as much as the Korean Intelligence Service, through Park Jae-hyok, and a former North Korean spy that also carries a huge grudge against Kim, Ri Dae-bum. Kim’s status has them all pitted against each other while he continues his violent spree, as a number of plot twists and the changing of allegiances weave an intricate web around the perpetrator, where violence and death are the only certainties.
The film shows its bloody, violent, but also somewhat misogynistic premises in its first 30 minutes, which are probably the most brutal in the whole movie. The violence aspect is toned down after this, in order to present the story, but never actually leaves the screen, even as a possibility. This aspect derives from two factors mostly. The first one is Chae I-do, whose obsession to catch the perpetrator and his will to go to extremes to achieve it form one of the basic axes of the film. Kim Myung-min is very convincing in the part, as a man who does not hesitate to be violent even with his subordinates, although this aspect occasionally provides the few funny moments in the film. The second one, and the most intense for that matter, is Kim Gwang-il, whose smile is among the most terrifying images I have seen on screen lately, with him emitting evil and sadism from every pore. The fact that, after a fashion, he also becomes the receiver of violence, does not tone down the character of the archetypical villain, with his kind of “cute” looks actually providing a great antithesis to his sinister reality. Lee Jong-suk was the perfect choice for the role, and he delivers a great performance, as one of the greatest villains of the recent years. Jang Dong-gu as Park Jae-hyok provides a much more “calm” force; however, the scenes where he also succumbs to violence are among the most impressive in the movie, with the finale providing the most impressive sequence. I also found Peter Stormare’s presence as Paul, quite beneficial to the production, with him playing his character with gusto, in one of the rare occasion where the “westerner” in a Korean movie is an accomplished actor.
Park Hoon-jung weaves an intricate story that surrounds the film’s aforementioned aesthetics, with the concept of cops vs agents providing a great base for the narraative, while allowing his great characters to shine on a number of occasions. At times, though, I felt that he might have gone too far with the story, which becomes somewhat unrealistic after a fashion. On the other hand, the film does not aim at realism but at entertainment, and with a narrative style similar to the one of “I Saw the Devil”, succeeds to the fullest.
The production values follow the successful rules of the Korean crime thriller. The production is quite polished, highlighting the film’s big budget frequently, with the cinematography focusing on portraying the characters and the actions scenes in the most impressive way. The editing provides a rather fast pace for the movie, which suits the general aesthetics to the fullest, with some occasional jump cuts to Kim’s victims being the apogee of the great work done in the department.
“V.I.P.” is an impressive action crime thriller, which includes all elements that made the genre a huge success internationally. I would not put it in the same level with “I Saw the Devil” but it is not so far behind and fans of the aforementioned movie and of the genre will definitely enjoy it.