Opening the London East Asia Film Festival, (LEAFF) Veteran arrives from Korea where it is breaking domestic box office records and winning critical acclaim. The latest film from established director Ryoo Seung-wan seamlessly blends slapstick comedy with adrenaline fuelled action whilst casting a harsh critical eye on the wealthy elite that blight modern Korean society.
Hwang Jung-min stars as Detective Seo Do-cheol, of the Seoul Metropolitan Crime Bureau whose somewhat roguish demeanour and disregard for procedure overshadows his heart of gold and honourable intentions. His investigation into the suspicious suicide attempt of driver Bae (Jung Woong-in) who was seeking compensation for his unfair dismissal, brings him up against Sin jin Trading company head Cho Tae-oh, an adept multi-faceted performance from Yoo Ah-in.
Helping Detective Seo in his fight for justice against Tae-oh are his team leader, Oh (Oh Dal-su) and the feisty no-nonsense fellow officer Miss Bong, a wonderfully entertaining performance from Jang Yoon-ju.
When a truck driver winds up comatosed after an apparent suicide attempt, Detective Seo Do-cheol suspects the decadent and corrupt heir to the conglomerate Sin jin Trading Company Cho Tae-oh for which the driver had worked. The sociopathic cocaine fuelled Tae-oh will stop at nothing to protect his privileged position against the irrepressible Detective Seo who is determined to bring Tae-oh to justice.
Writer/director Ryoo Seung-wan teams up once again with choreographer Jung Doo-hung for this honest to goodness entertaining crime thriller that offers adrenaline fuelled fisticuffs, plenty of laughs but at it’s a core a critical unyielding eye over the excesses of the uber-rich. The action kicks off light-heartedly from the start with Do-cheol trapped in a small garage fending off a cluster of gangsters. Doo-hung stages an impressive display of resourceful choreography as he moves his characters around the confines of the garage hitting one another with an assortment of car props and some impressive aerial Taekwondo kicks. Star, Jung-min shows off his physical abilities along with some comic timing as he smugly kicks away his attackers whilst sliding along a car bonnet only to hurt himself on one of the brandished weapons.
The fights and laughs come thick and fast in one of the film’s entertaining moments as Do-cheol and his team head to Seoul’s Busan Pier to bust a gang of car smugglers. Seung-wan and Doo-hung exploit the tight confines of the pier’s maze of freight containers that seamlessly blends some dynamic combat and chases with laugh out loud slapstick humour. From one police officer hurling herself at a fleeing gangster only to collide head first into a container to one half of De-cheol trapped between two containers fending off a criminal with his free hand and leg, Seung-wan proves his skill at writing and staging great comedy. The finest scene however goes to Oh Dal-su as the department’s harried chief rolling up to an out of breath, escaping thug offering him a bottle of water before passing him the handcuffs.
Hwang Jung-min captures the irrepressible charisma of his reckless but well-meaning character, Do-cheol who at first comes across as a slouch with no sense of responsibility. However his decision to get justice for Baer reveals an old fashioned sense of nobility which puts him at odds with Cho Tae-oh. As the corporate brat, Yoo Ah-in revels in his bad guy role bringing to the fore Tae-oh’s smug sense of entitlement and sociopathic dismissal of right and wrong. Tae-oh is the very embodiment of this vile hedonism of the powerful and wealthy and here Seung-wan lays it on thick in a barbaric scene where he has Bae beaten senseless by a unscrupulous sub-contractor, this is no doubt something that will have audiences’ blood boiling.
The film steadily builds up to its sensational showdown, with numerous confrontations between the two men broken up with some light relief through the ensemble of supporting players in their back and forth banter. The mixture of laughs and tensions explodes in a satisfying mano a mano clash between Do-cheol and Tae-oh who earlier strutted his MMA stuff breaking the ankle of a potential bodyguard recruit. This titanic clash of wills and fists eclipses the comedy for some tense battle packed, bone crunching combat -with the opponents’ aggression so unrelentingly raw you can almost taste the iron in their bloodied gums.
“Veteran” is an exhilarating message-fuelled action comedy and like most films of its ilk is very alpha-male orientated. In contrast to numerous actioners, the macho machismo is laced with goofy gags and self-mockery, along with the occasional reality check from the film’s female cast, in particular the high kicking Miss Bong. With a black and white stance on corporate greed as the cause of class division and social injustice, Ryoo Seung-wan delivers honest-to-goodness adrenaline stacked entertainment. The film is unashamedly crowd-pleasing with its heart in the right place, packed with great performances and for fight fans some hilarious, refreshing and stylish action.
- Ryoo Seung-wan drew on the works of Buster Keaton and 80’s Hollywood action films including “Die Hard”, “Lethal Weapon” and “Beverly Hills Cop”. Much of this is evident in the film.
- Fight choreographer Joong Do-hung is the founder of the Seoul Action School many of whose members performed stunts in the film. Do-hung himself performed stunts on Hollywood films such as “Red 2” and “G.I Joe”.
- Ryoo Seung-wan has announced plans for a sequel following the film’s impressive box office performance.