Tag Archives: Busan

VIFF 2015 Review: The Classified File (극비수사)

 

The Classified File is a Korean drama that will keep you intrigued.

The Classified File is a Korean drama that will keep you intrigued.

I’ll admit the Vancouver Film Festival ended on October 9th and the VIFF repeats ended October 15th. I was hoping to get most of my reviews done soon but many things happened, like an illness and other tasks of my own I was preoccupied. So you will be getting the last five of my VIFF reviews soon. In the meantime, here’s the latest: for the Korean film The Classified File.

In 1978 in Busan, a young girl to a wealthy family named Eun-Joo is kidnapped. Her abductor demands ransom money. The law enforcement team becomes frustrated as time goes on as there’s no further contact from the kidnapper over two weeks nor any more additional clues. Police assume she’s dead but the family refuse to believe so.

Eun-Joo’s mother turns to renowned fortune teller Kim Joong-San for reassurance. He tells her she’s fine but they will need the help of detective Gong Gil-Yong. Gong is reluctant to take on the case and even more reluctant to consult with the fortune teller but he agrees to take it on. Days go by as he has to wire conversations between Eun-Joo’s family and the abductor. There are even times they have to team up with the police force in Seoul but they face a reluctance from them feeling that this too is a hopeless case.

After four weeks Gong starts developing a sense that maybe Kim’s predictions are helping and could actually help to find Eun-Joo. However time is still moving on and they still don’t have Eun-Joo as the abductor continues to taunt them. Then they get a break. It leads to an exciting end of the story and an ending to the movie that wasn’t expected.

This is another example of foreign movie making. Here it’s a story of a crime drama based from evens almost four decades ago. It keeps one intrigued: a story about an abduction and it continues over a long period of time with consistent taunts from the abductor and wrong leads. The story does have an interesting element where a spiritual guide is ‘hired’ to help solve the crime. I’m sure there have been movies before about spiritual people who try to predict or sense where the victim is or where the criminal is. However very rarely is it a case when a real-life situation is depicted. I’m normally one who doesn’t believe in psychic powers but when I see all this on screen, and I know this is based on true events, I’m tempted to believe in it.

I will say that most films about using sorcery or psychic powers to solve a crime often come off as corny. This one didn’t. It did things right in showing the fortune teller’s purpose without the story becoming idiotic. It also kept the family of Eun-Joo in the story as it added to the drama and gave it a human sense. However the biggest glitch in the movie was the ending. I felt for a crime story full of drama, it ended too soft and mushy. I know it was to show the friendship between the fortune teller and the detective that occurs at the end but still I felt it became mush in the end.

Kwak Kyung-Taek did a good job as a director and co-writer. He’s one director with a big reputation in South Korea creating a lot of popular films. This should add to his resume. However I don’t see it getting too much release elsewhere. Kim Yoon-Seok did a good job as Gong despite not having a spectacular role. Yoo hae-Jin was also good as Kim and even stole a few scenes. The actors playing the family of Eun-Joo were also good. The role of the villain however was underdeveloped.

I will admit that I had expectations on this film. I read in the VIFF guide about how the politics of the time were included in the film. I was anticipated it would represent the politics of the time the same way Nameless Gangster did. It wasn’t to representative. Maybe I shouldn’t have placed that expectation on it.

There are many foreign films that made their international debut at the VIFF. The South Korean crime thriller The Classified File was one of them. It was a good, albeit imperfect, drama.

VIFF 2012 Review – Nameless Gangster: Rules Of The Time (범죄와의 전쟁)

Nameless Gangster looks like South Korea’s attempt to try and make a gangster movie. The one thing is it does a very good job at making one. This film is more than what one bargained for.

Choi Ik Hyun doesn’t seem like the type to become a gangster. He’s a customs officer in Busan who was pilfering goods and taking bribes along with colleagues at the most. On top of it, he gets drunk very often and comes off as both clumsy and idiotic after a lot of drinking. That all changes when he comes across 10kg of heroin in the warehouse. He and a friend approach a gangster, Choi Hyung-bae, to sell it to Japan’s yakuza that he’s tied to. He also learns that Hyung-bae is from the same family tree.

Soon the two would become partners in crime and they would form their own organized crime syndicate. Soon Choi’s power grows to owning night clubs and one of Busan’s first class hotels. He also faces power struggles from close associates, people within his gang and even among rivals. Some of it has to do with his feisty personality and his habit for getting drunk easily. Other times it’s because of the conflict of who’s really in power. As Choi’s power grows, politics are changing in South Korea. The dictatorship which allowed Choi to prosper in his criminal activity is now making way to democracy with the election of President Roh Tae-woo just before the Seoul Olympics. Just two years after the election, the government proposes a crackdown on organized crime. Choi knows his days are numbered. He knows the connections to prosecutors that helped some of his men get off charges in the past won’t work anymore. The story ends with the predictable as the movie begins with a prosecutor announcing the arrest of Choi in 1990 but it ends on a different and on a note one wouldn’t expect from a gangster movie.

The film’s script is good for that it’s able to mix humor with organized crime the same way Pulp Fiction and Fargo does. However the film is just as smart as it is in its story too. The film’s script is very detailed in how it’s able to take into account the situation in Busan and the rest of South Korea during that time. It takes into good account the situation of crime in Busan in the 80’s during the time South Korea was still under a dictatorship. Yeah, just because South Korea wasn’t under the tight grip the communist North was under as was well-to-do doesn’t mean the people of South Korea were completely free at the time. It also highlights the changes in South Korea as the decade progress from the student protests, to the Seoul Olympics to the election of President Roh Tae-Woo to Roh’s crackdown on organized crime and corruption. This is a part of history few outside South Korea know about. It’s as much of an eye-opener as it is entertaining.

The movie not only shows South Korea’s changing political climate at the time but how it impacted Choi and why he made his choice to organized crime. South Korea was under a dictatorship to the move to democracy to the crackdown on organized crime. While South Korea was still under a dictatorship Choi’s income as a customs officer wasn’t good. Organized crime seemed his way out at the time. He chose it and reaped the lucrative rewards as well as the star status. He also faced threats from outside rivals and rivalry within his own gang. As South Korea made the move to democracy, prosecutors then became the stars of the new Korea and that meant the downfall of Choi. The title Nameless Gangster could be because Choi could be any man in South Korea at that time. The subtitle Rules Of The Time send the message that the movie is as much about the times as it’s about the protagonist.

There were two powerful scenes in the film on that subject. The first was when Choi was having dinner with his children while he knew his arrest would be eventual. He says goodbye to his son as he is about to go to Los Angeles and told him of the importance of learning  the English language. Another was when he was at a religious ceremony for his newborn grandchild. It’s the child of his son who’s now a prosecutor. The scene where his grandson grips Choi’s finger is a powerful one of hope. It’s like Choi’s happy that his son and grandson have the better futures that Choi never had the chance for.

Without a doubt, the character of Choi was the top quality of the movie. It’s surprising how a bumbling, clumsy, easy drunk like Choi could ever manage to rise to the top of the organized crime scene in Busan but somehow he does. The movie wasn’t just about Choi and his bumbling meetings or his criminal activities. It was also about Choi the husband and Choi the father. The scenes with his children and grandchild show a different side of Choi and make his character three-dimensional rather than the typical stock character of comedies. Actor Choi Min-shik did a very good job with the role. Scriptwriter and director Yun Jong-bin did an excellent job in writing a script that was as comical as it was smart and bringing it to the screen well. I will admit I was first confused during the movie wondering what the point was in having a clumsy, oafish man as a major organized crime don but it all made sense in the end.

Nameless Gangster has received a lot of buzz. In South Korea, the film was #1 at the box office for three weeks. The film has received many awards and nominations amongst South Korea’s movie awards. Time magazine even described it as: “the Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of.”  Interesting that the Busan-born Yun is almost 32 years-old and he has released two other films that have raised eyebrows, especially in the ways they depict male mannerisms. Already Yun looks like he’s on to a very promising career in directing especially with the success of Nameless Gangster.

Nameless Gangster is more than just an entertaining story of a crime boss. It’s also a statement about South Korea’s politics at the time and about the man caught in between. Definitely a film worth seeing.