South Korea’s successful entry into the action movie market continues to be unprecedented drawing on Hollywood influences but adding its own brand of realism and gritty action. Into the fold steps “The Suspect”, a high-octane fast paced spy thriller packed with thrilling car chases, shootouts, and breathtaking fights that is sure to entertain action fans the world over.
An actor better known for romantic comedies and garnering critical acclaim for his performance in the legal drama “Silenced”, Yoo Gong steps up to the action plate as North Korean defector and superspy Ji Dong-chul, framed for murder, on the run and out for revenge. In hot pursuit is NSIA (Korean intelligence) agent Colonel Min Se-hoon, a drill sergeant who is as tough as he is relentless as his on-the-run nemesis and has his own reasons for wanting to catch up with Ji.
Television actor Jo Sung-ha plays the duplicitous NSIA director Kim Seok-ho playing both sides against the middle for his own ends. Aiding the Colonel is Captain Jo an intelligence officer played by Jo Jae-yin who at first comes across as a bit of a clown but more than proves his worth. Kim Seon-gyoon is Lee Gwang-jo, another North Korean spy defector to the South who also shares a history with Ji.
A former North Korean spy who defected to the south is framed for the murder of his boss and so goes on the run to prove his innocence but is also hunting another defector. The NSIA bring in counter intelligence officer Colonel Min Se-hoon with whom Ji has a chequered history. The two men find themselves in a fast and frenetic chase through the streets of Seoul and caught in the deceptive web of the NSIA’s scheming director.
Writer Lim Sang-yoon finds himself on familiar territory after the highly successful equally clandestine action thriller “A Company Man” only this time handing the director reigns over to Won Shin-yeon calling on Hollywood influence and techniques of modern action cinema. Shin-yeon utilises the now commonly used “shaky cam” featured in the “Bourne” films for much of the chase scenes, then throws into the mix a sprinkle of Bond-esque car chases and a dash of “Mission Impossible” (Ji’s perilous mountain climb).
The fight scenes which usually take place in some desolate building or downtown alley, feature impressive looking Taekwondo against Yoo Gong’s hard edged Systema. The scene where Ji chases down a sniper and battles him illustrates this contrast in styles perfectly, whereas his opponent opts for high flying spinning kicks, Ji economises his motion by keeping a solid posture delivering simple though devastating strikes. Like its Hollywood influences, the ominous bone crunching noises are toned down yet each hit appears to connect with force.
At times Sang-yoon over-uses the shaky cam and quick edits make the fighting difficult to see fully yet its dizzying speed does help serve up a meaty ‘wow’ factor. What stands out in the use of martial arts is the sense of resourceful improvisation that the fighters convincingly convey. Using Systema in a Korean film is interesting as it is not a showy fighting form with simplicity and effectiveness being key to its use. However it does look incredibly impressive, largely due to Yoo Gong’s performance. Each move looks swift and natural betraying little emotion but rather a serene calm stillness that barely flinches when he explodes into action. Gong’s cold demeanour, impressive physique and skill really make you believe he is a superspy.
“The Suspect” is everything you could hope for from a gripping action spy thriller, heavy on the politics and double dealing, its cynical view of corrupt government activities echoes that of Ryoo Seung-wan’s “Veteran”. Then there is the explosive action, packed with that blend of exhilarating chases, sharply edited, fast-paced, brutal, hard-edged fighting that unfolds at a fast and dynamic pace exuding urgency. The story’s twists and turns and full throttle action feel like a rollercoaster assault on the senses, but as the narrative moves it all from one set piece to another in linear fashion, it’s easy to follow. There are good performances all round, several fight scenes that really do pack a punch and the inclusion of Systema as the martial art of choice is brilliant to see.
- Yoo Gong went on a 3 month strict diet and rigorous training regimen to develop his lean muscular physique. This enabled him to perform the demanding stunts including the mountain climb, car chases and even skydiving into the river.
- For the fight scenes, Yoo Gong trained in the Russian martial art of Systema. It is basically a continuously evolving complete system that covers health, combat self-defence and is a way of life. It is largely non-aggressive and students learn to use practical effective techniques through natural movement whilst maintaining a calm body and mind.
- The film has received some notable praise being listed in the Critics Top 10 at the 34th “Korean Association of Film Critics Award”, and Yoo Gong was named Best Actor at the 22nd “Korean Culture and Entertainment Awards.”