Dir/scr: Ryoo Seung-wan. South Korea. 2015. 123mins.


South Korea’s action-maverick auteur Ryoo Seung-wan (The Berlin File) is back at the top of his game with this highly engrossing and entertaining action thriller that sees a tenacious detective take on a tyrannical heir to a powerful conglomerate. Commercial Korean cinema has had a poor year so far both commercially and critically, but Veteran, which bows August 5 domestically and has signed a raft of international deals, could be a sign that things are about to improve.

Ryoo concentrates on delivering a solid and uncomplicated script filled with energy and humour; Veteran tackles the corruption associated with Korean conglomerates with a sharp wit and slapstick sensibility.

While Ryoo Seung-wan’s name may attract some attention, particularly with festivals,ultimately it’s the quality of the finished product that will help drive sales and buyers have already responded with sales to 28 countries including most large Asian territtories for this solid, light-hearted Korean action thriller.

The film follows the affable if somewhat unorthodox detective Do-chul (Hwang Jung-min) who, after busting an international car smuggling ring, is invited to a TV production party by a friend. There he meets the obnoxious corporate heir Tae-oh (Yoo Ah-in) who rubs the detective up the wrong way. After observing Tae-oh’s reckless behavior Do-chul later starts to ask around about his background but is prevented from doing so by his team leader.

Soon, however, a truck driver Do-chul knows ends up in a coma following an apparent suicide attempt after he was brutally beaten and humiliated in Tae-oh’s office over unpaid wages, Do-chul receives a phone call from the driver’s nine-year-old son and immediately begins to search for answers which lead him to the wealthy organisation the Sun-jin Group.  

In tackling Veteran, Ryoo seems to have taken on board some criticisms of his convoluted The Berlin File, and concentrates on delivering a solid and uncomplicated script filled with energy and humour. Like with The Unjust, Ryoo tackles the corruption associated with Korean conglomerates and the justice system, but he does so with a sharp wit and slapstick humor. The film does take a darker turn when the brutal Tae-oh unleashes his wrath, but Ryoo is careful to ensure the changes in tone are not too jarring.

Ryoo, who often collaborates with locally renowned action choreographer Jung Doo-hong, is responsible for some of the most audacious action scenes in Korean cinema as evidenced by The Berlin File and City of Violence and although Veteran in some ways is less ambitious in terms of set-pieces, it benefits from its deeper focus on storytelling. There are still a sufficient number of exhilarating and comical action sequences choreographed by Jung and shot by Choi Young-hwan to keep Ryoo’s action fans happy, in particular the gripping finale set in one of Seoul’s major shopping districts where Do-chul chases Tae-oh’s car on a police motorbike. 

One of Korea’s busiest actors Hwang Jung-min (The Unjust, Ode to My Father) makes detective a likable screen presence, while Yoo Ah-in (Punch) is impressive as the film’s villainous Tae-oh. Supporting roles are similarly convincing includin reliable character actor Oh Dal-su (Assassination) as the team leader.

There are no real surprises as Veteran’s narrative unfolds and the themes of corruption and justice it tackles may not be new, but are addressed in a refreshing and entertaining manner. Korean films may be frequently associated with violence and grim narratives, but here is a work which doesn’t want to take things too seriously and yet still has a message to deliver in its search for justice.  

Production Company: Filmmakers R&K

World Sales: CJ Entertainment (http://en.cjenm.com/business/film/film.aspx)

Executive Producers: Jeong Tae-sung, Michelle Kwon

Producers: Cho Sung-min, Kang Hye-jung, Kim Jeong-min

Screenplay: Ryoo Seung-wan

Cinematography: Choi Young-hwan

Production Design: Jo Hwa-sung

Editors: Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-bum

Music: Bang Joon-seok

Main Cast: Hwang Jung-min, Yoo Ah-in, Yoo Hae-jin, Oh Dal-su, Jang Yoon-ju.