Choi Jin-won directs and pens ‘’Mister Socrates’’, not a typical gangster film, but a movie that combines comedy, crime, drama and social commentary.
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The main character is Ku Dong-Hyeok (Kim Rae-won), who is a high-school drop-out and low-level thug. He shows no respect for others, he has no ethics and he just loves to beat people. One night, while he reports the accidental murder of a friend of his by another friend, he gets kidnapped by a gang. He is kept in an abandoned school and, under the supervision of Bum-pyo (Kang Shin-il), he undergoes rigid training and study. The purpose of these is to become a police officer after passing the GED tests and the police recruitment tests. However, the hindmost purpose of all these is to become a homicide police officer and be the mole and the connecting link between the gang and the police.
‘’Mister Socrates’’ stands out from other gangster movies due to its allegories and symbolism. One of my personal favorite allegories is the use of Newton’s three Laws of Motion. The law of inertia, the law of acceleration and the law of action-reaction that facilitate the symbolism of different phases and conditions of life.
The character of Ku Dong-hyeok is quite interesting. He has a twisted perception of giving someone a lesson, which consists only by beating them up. This is also the reason that he agrees to become a police officer, since as one, he will have the license to beat up people. At first glance, Ku Dong-hyeok seems not to care about anyone, but when he feels that his brother would lead the same path of low-life, he cooperates with the gang. This indicates, on one hand, how much he cares and loves his brother and on the other hand, that he did not choose the life that he has now and that deep inside him, he knows that this type of life is not the best one.
Writer and director Choi Jin-won cleverly demonstrates the change in the character of Ku Dong-hyeok in one scene, by using a mathematical model, the Venn diagram. Venn diagram consists of two cycles that part of them overlaps, and this diagram is used to represent the qualities of Ku Dong-hyeok’s character and the different paths he can choose. In more detail, the one cycle represents the beliefs, ethics and morals that the police officers must have and the other cycle the corruption of the syndicate. The area of the overlap of the two cycles is no other than Ku Dong-hyeok. Now he has good and bad traits, as he exists in the middle of the police and the gang. His new beliefs and morals are put to the ultimate test when he is asked to kill another police officer who was also a member of the gang and betrayed them.
Ku Dong-hyeok captures criminals by beating them, and in this way, the director implements that maybe the end justifies the means. Moreover, the director makes a social commentary and critique about the educational system of South Korea, which may be ranked among the highest, but it also focuses on hard work and is very strict. On the other hand, he does not diminish the importance of proper education, but on the contrary, he enhances it.
Kim Rae-won, one of the best actors of his generation, is exceptional in his role as the low-lever thug Ku Dong-hyeok, as he uses his eyes to convey a plethora of emotions. Furthermore, the film features a strong supporting cast, namely Kang Shin-il as the stoic teacher Bum-pyo, Lee Jong-hyuk as the righteous Squad Leader Shin and Park Chul-min as naive gangster Baek Chang-gyu. The actor that stands out from the supporting cast is Park Chul-min. He is truly hilarious in his role, especially due to his facial expressions and the scene where he takes a woman hostage, in order to force Ku Dong-hyeok to become a homicide police officer. This scene is one of the highlights of the movie.
The directing by Choi Jin-won is decent and only a couple of scenes are exaggerated e.g. the scene with the car collision in the tunnel. As for the background music, it is chosen carefully and fits excellently each scene.
‘’Mr. Socrates’’ is far from being a masterpiece, but it is definitely a hidden gem and provides pure entertainment that every fan of gangster movies should watch.