The Chaser (2008)

Director: Na Hong-jin

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Certification: 18

Starring: Kim Yoon-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Young-hee, Kim You-jung, Jeong In-gi, Park Hyo-ju, Jo Deok-jae, Choi Jung-woo, Oh Yeon-ah

Making his feature debut, co-writer/director Na Hong-jin opens with the sight of a sex-worker meeting her client before they drive to his desired location. She parks her car askew upon arriving, believing that this will be a typical job which will quickly end with a sharpish return to her car. The film then cuts to a rainy day, with the dirty windscreen and numerous parking tickets indicating that much time has passed. She never made it back to her car, and it seems she was just the latest victim who vanished without a trace.

The Chaser follows disgraced ex-detective Jung-ho (Kim Yoon-seok), who has changed careers to become a pimp. He is in financial trouble after a number of his employees have disappeared without clearing their debts, although he soon finds evidence that the girls had all met the same client before disappearing. He catches Ji Young-min (Ha Jung-woo), the serial killer responsible, although only has twelve-hours to find evidence that will prevent the killer from being released and find Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee), the latest disappeared girl who remains alive.

There is a point in the narrative where Mi-jin discovers more signs that she is in danger, with the dawning realisation conveyed through Seo Young-hee's performance for an unsettling moment. It also serves as a tremendous reveal for viewers regarding how distressing the film will become, as it gives way for graphic and upsetting moments that will leave viewers' stomachs in knots. Na Hong-jin crafts an unnerving tone borne from the unfolding cat-and-mouse game, while layering it with a palpable frustration at how little outside forces seem to care about the case. While the media coverage focuses on a grotesque act of protest against the mayor, no interest appears to be spared for a serial killer that targets sex workers, yet that does not stop governmental politics resulting in decisions which hinders the crime being solved.

With the film built around two characters engaged in a game of wits, the central performances tremendously bring alive this breathtaking back-and-forth. Kim Yoon-seok captures the rougher edges of Jung-ho which mask his inner vulnerability, as he becomes determined to save Mi-jin by finding the necessary evidence to prove the killer's identity. Opposite to him is a chillingly calm performance from Ha Jung-woo, which captures an assured confidence in this sickening killer that he will get away with his crimes.

While the strange mixture of tonal shifts and genres can feel jarring at times, these moments thankfully pass by swiftly. It is all part of a 125-minute runtime which ensures not a moment feels wasted, leaving viewers breathless amidst the engrossing feature. While The Chaser is not a hopeful film, it remains a phenomenal debut that will leave hearts pounding like a drum.

The Chaser is now available on digital platforms