Director: Won Shin-yun
Starring: Gong Yoo, Park Hee-soon, Jo Sung-ha, Yoo Da-in, Kim Sung-kyun
A North Korean defector, Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) now lives in the South, having difficulty adjusting to the pace of living and on a search for a man who helped instigate his defection. After meeting a fellow defector who has grown to prominence and wealth in the South (Song Jae-ho), he walks into an assassination attempt on the kindly man. Dispatching the perpetrator quickly he is nonetheless unable to save his friend and is entrusted with a pair of glasses with a secret worth killing for. Finding himself blamed for the murder, Ji must use his skills gathered as one of North Korea’s best operatives to stay one step ahead of those who have orchestrated the murder and ahead of the doggedly in pursuit Colonel Min (Park Hee-soon), a man with whom he has a bitter history and begrudging respect. As Ji finds the net tightening, will he be able to clear his name and discover the secret behind the mysterious pair of glasses?
With the death of Kim Jong-il, and the ascension to power of his son Kim Jong-un, South Korean cinema has been rife with films detailing power struggles and internal conflict with the regime change of one of the most oppressive governments in the world. Taking the modern action thriller route, The Suspect delivers a very entertaining and indeed a very action packed take on burned North Korean saboteurs and the cleanup surrounding a change in power. While lacking enough originality to stand out as a modern action classic, it nonetheless is entertainment of high quality and should satisfy even the most hardy of action films fans.
Clearly influenced by the Bourne series of films, really though how many modern action films aren’t these days, The Suspect looks like a retailored suit by experts in the original. Camera movement, that being handheld, is most telling, though quite a few steady shots do make an appearance for the quieter moments and the few dramatic elements that thankfully remain melodrama free. The action itself is absolutely phenomenal with huge set pieces varying from car chases, hand to hand combat, and gunplay. Clearly attempting to compete with the international market, there is little that this film does that isn’t up there with the Bond films or the work of Jeff Imada. Action director Oh Se-yeong’s hand to hand elements are a dizzying mix of strikes and throws that thankfully allow the training the actors have gone through to have paid off. Wince-inducing brawls highlight a popcorn aesthetic but the plot stays focused enough to not fall into exaggerated parody.
Gong Yoo, in his first action as the lead, performs admirably though his character’s stoicism limits his emotional effect, at least until his final scene. I’ve never considered him a great actor by any means, but his physical performance should satisfy the throngs of female fans, and the few men, that he commands with his television appearances and advertisements. Even still, the acting itself isn’t great all around, minus the aggressively enjoyable work by Park Hee-soon as the investigator looking for Ji and whom discovers a possible cover up. Handy plot device performances include a reporter role for Yoo Da-in and the comedic relief information insider by Jo Jae-yoon. They get you where you need to go, but it’s a formality as you never truly develop report. Of note for older genre fans is the surprise appearance of the acrobatic Won Jin who definitely still has the moves and NEEDS to be in more films.
In the end, The Suspect delivers where it counts; the immersive and adrenaline pumping action scenes. With the average plot and storytelling, cinema purists will find much to pick at for critiques, but for the viewer looking for a hard hitting and violent action film in the vein of Taken and Skyfall, you’ll be without a doubt entertained by the athleticism on display.
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!