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'Troubleshooter' plays it too safe

2010/09/02 | 352 views |  | Permalink | Source

Learn to read Korean in 90 minutes or less using visual associations
By Lee Hyo-won

Seol Kyeong-gu's latest screen persona coincidentally shares the same name and a similar profile as Won Bin's knife-wielding madman in "The Man From Nowhere", which is currently making waves at the box office: Tae-sik in "Troubleshooter" is a former police officer whose wife is killed at a crime scene and Won's Tae-sik is a retired secret agent who saw his wife die in a similar way. But there is a stark contrast between the disheveled Seol scrambling about, getting knocked out by toilet seats and the like, while one of Korea's prettiest faces struts around in a finely pressed black suit, effortlessly defeating opponents in stylishly choreographed action sequences.

Yet Seol, one of Korean cinema's most trusted actors, need not worry about such superficial comparisons ― particularly since he has his all too familiar and much-loved "Public Enemy" franchise to back up the scruffy guy-next-door-saves-the-day premise of the film.

Seol's bona fide filmography thus proves to be a fine buttress for Kwon Hyeok-jae's directorial debut, as does the speedy storyline scripted by witty director Ryoo Seung-wan. Nevertheless, these self-serving advantages also cripple the film somewhat because it plays it too safe.

The action flick comes in time for Chuseok and while the outlook isn't too bad for the holiday lineup there seems to be little consequence in the long run, since it lacks the sultry ironic humor of Korean gangster films, and is neither disturbingly noir nor "han"-driven melodrama.

Tae-sik seems to be what the antiheroic cop Kang Cheol-jung might be doing after retirement: A single dad living in fear of his midget daughter and, equipped with a veteran's experience of trailing clues, state-of-the-art gadgets and a knack for instant disguise, running a so-called "crime institute", which is really a P.I. service for catching cheating husbands and collecting debts.

Though Tae-sik is the most notoriously skilled troubleshooter in the sordid business, you cannot scratch your own back, and what seemed like a crackdown on adultery at a local motel turns out to be a trap for his biggest case yet, where the one in trouble is, well, surprise, surprise, himself.

He is framed for murder, but as an insider, he manages to run from the police. It is only a matter of time before he gets caught as he becomes Seoul's Most Wanted, and his photo is transmitted all over town. This is when a cell phone falls into his hands and a mysterious Big Brother-type gives him directions: "I have the video proving your innocence, and follow my directions if you want to come off clean".

Tae-sik is instructed to kidnap a celebrity lawyer tangled up in a red-hot political issue, and he must worry about both the police on his tail and the prosecutors watching his target hostage. His biggest issue, however, is the guy controlling him and watching his every move with only a few words on the cell phone. But our protagonist isn't called the troubleshooter for nothing, and decides to fight back to regain control of his life.

The film is driven forward by what seems to be Seol's animalistic instincts to survive both on and offscreen ― no-cut skirmishes involving guns, knives and seemingly harmless household items, and a heart-thumping car chase scene where most of the film's budget was undoubtedly poured into. But "Troubleshooter" loses its edge because the storyline, which is rather complex to begin with, is rendered unnecessarily complicated.

Some may begin to feel that Seol's tortured antihero persona to be a bit passe ― it's true to a degree when a film tries to recycle safe formulas. The supporting cast give the film a novel twist ― actress Moon Jeong-hee provides weight and girth while Song Sae-byeok ("The Servant") provides comic relief with his uncanny screen presence.

In theaters Sept. 9. Distributed by SBS Contents Hub.

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