The Unjust (Bu-dang-geo-rae, Ryoo Seung-wan, South Korea)
The first few minutes of The Unjust give off a huge Mission Impossible vibe; the combination of sweeping camera movements, rhythmic electronic music and a chase involving two cops and a crook all feel distinctly Hollywood in a way that you don’t normally see in a feature from South Korea.
The two cops are investigating a series of child murders which continues to pile pressure on the Korean police force, and the crook they’re chasing is their primary suspect. When one of the cops shoots and kills the suspect, pressure to prosecute and imprison a (living) person for the murders prompts the leader of their squad (Jeong-min Hwang’s Choi Cheol-gi) to remove every trace of the botched arrest and pin the murders on their next best suspect, all with the blessing of Choi’s superiors.
This is the point at which I realised we were not in Hollywood any more. From this platform springs so many levels of corruption, shady deals and double-crosses that it’s genuinely difficult to keep up with not only what’s going on, but where your loyalties are supposed to lie. The two most prominent characters are both corrupt public servants, one a police officer and the other a public prosecutor (Ryoo Seung-bum), and neither are sympathetic enough to be considered anti-heroes. They’re just crooks; not what you’d normally see in the latest commercial fare from the United States.
As the story spreads to involve warring property developers, Choi’s brother-in-law, and virtually all of the police hierarchy, Choi is the character through whose eyes most of the plot is revealed, so it feels like he’s the one we’re supposed to be barracking for. The problem is, he’s just an unsympathetic character… and not your Vic Mackey-style police-officer-who-breaks-the-rules-to-catch-the-criminal (and maybe skim a little off the top for himself), Choi’s primary interest is looking after his own interests and if catching the bad guy happens to synchronise with that aim then that’s a bonus. Consequently, most of the third act is rendered limp because you’re not desperate for one character to be victorious over any others.
I admire director Ryoo Seung-wan for trying something a little unconventional for a police thriller, but if you’re going to attempt to turn a genre’s conventions on its head you have to do it exceptionally well or your audience won’t go with it. Unfortunately, while The Unjust isn’t bad, I didn’t completely go with it.
Rating: 2.5 stars