South Korean thrillers have retained their edge and style while growing in prominence the past decade. The stories are not too far-fetched, and their presentation, while different from a western film, does not venture into art house territory. Combined with the fact that filmmakers are receiving grants and tax breaks from the government, South Korea’s consistent output of films makes it the top contender in mainstream action movies, anywhere.
V.I.P. takes the serial killer narrative and magnifies the stakes by including both North and South Korean government, their local police forces, as well as the CIA. Genre experts or politically astute viewers will get an extra kick from international metaphors floating above the airy blood-spattered conflicts. However, the sprawling scope can be a little tough to take in at times, as it was for me.
Luckily the film restates the man conflict and boils it down to a person of interest (the titular V.I.P.), abusing their North Korean association to get away with brutal murders. As different parties focus their efforts in catching the psychopath, the film creatively delivers a nice take on the buddy cop action genre— switching point of views as three officers work to bring down the killer.
As V.I.P. is directed by Hoon-Jung Park, writer of genre favorite I Saw the Devil, the villain lives up to the vicious standard expected, and at times delivering more. Crimes and atrocities committed by the killer are brutal, vile, and do the job of presenting him as deplorable. My only gripe is that it leans into the super genius archetype comically, classical music and all.
The film casts a wide net of character types across the killer’s pursuers. Different shades of hardboiled molds fill each of the three officers. Stoic vengeance to flippant justing, and all of the degrees between, they are very entertaining to watch separately — each able to branch their part of the film into their own feature. The interplay when they finally do work together is like watching a supergroup concert that’s good.
All of what has been put to paper so far doesn’t look like anything special. It reads like a generic run of the mill film, and in a way, it almost is. It’s difficult to specify what about the delivery makes these set of common ingredients entertain the way it does, but it may boil down to the consistency of craft these films are made. Ultimately, just as forgetful as some of the big-budget action flicks, but more novel and entertaining, despite it coming from recycled parts. An exercise in green cinema, a trend that would do good to spread.