The Unjust 부당거래
2010, colour, 2.35:1, 119 mins
Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan (류승완 | 柳昇完)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 19 February 2011, 17:43 PM (HKT)
Hard-driven drama of crime and corruption is leavened by an operatic black humour. Genre events, plus ancillary.
Seoul, the present day. After the rape and murder of five elementary schoolgirls, the police have still failed to apprehend the serial killer. After one suspect, Yu Min-cheol (Kim Seung-hun), is shot dead — but with no conclusive proof he was guilty — the country's president becomes involved and adds to the pressure on the police to solve the case. Choi Cheol-gi (Hwang Jeong-min), a brilliant but sidelined detective at the Metropolitan Investigation Services who has just brought down corrupt property developer Kim Yang-su (Jo Yeong-jin), is suddenly taken off the case and Kim, thanks to his powerful connections, is released and his case closed. Choi is assigned instead to the serial murders and finally promised a promotion if he can get the police force off the hook by bringing the case to a satisfying conclusion. Choi re-examines the whole case and, with the help of Kim's opportunistic rival, Jang Seok-gu (Yu Hae-jin), decides to stitch up one of the other suspects as the killer. He chooses Lee Dong-seok (Wu Don-gi), a schoolbus driver with a retarded wife (Lee Mi-do) and young daughter (Park Ha-yeong) who has a past criminal record that includes child molestation. However, Choi and his team are secretly monitored by Ju Yang (Ryu Seung-beom), a Seoul District public prosecutor in the pocket of Kim, who is looking for payback on Choi for bringing him down and losing a construction project to Jang. One evening, however, Kim is stabbed to death while playing golf with Ju, and Ju receives embarrassing photos of himself and Kim together. Suspecting that Choi has fitted up Lee in the serial-murder case, Ju makes his suspicions known to his superiors but cannot present any hard evidence. After Ju is again made to look stupid when Lee mysteriously hangs himself in his holding cell, he launches a blitzkrieg investigation into Choi's whole career and family, and a deadly war breaks out between them, with Jang playing both sides off against each other.
With a fast-moving plot set among tough low-lives, police and businessmen, The Unjust 부당거래 (2010) marks a return to form by 37-year-old pulp-action director RYOO Seung-wan 류승완 | 柳昇完 after his disappointing retro spoof Dachimawa Lee 다찌마와 리 − 악인이여 지옥행 급행열차를 타라 (2008) and the mixed success of The City of Violence 짝패 (2006). Ryoo has always tempered his liking for physical violence with a rough, cartoony sense of humour and the same is on display here, with younger brother RYU Seung-beom 류승범 | 柳昇範 again taking a leading role — as a wild, long-haired public prosecutor who's so unbelievable in realistic terms that it raises the whole film to an entertainingly irreal level. Whether based in the grungy present (No Blood No Tears 피도 눈물도 없이 (2002)) or pure fantasy (Arahan: Urban Martial Arts Action 아라한 (2004)), Ryoo's movies are essentially operatic mangas, and The Unjust, with corruption seeping from every pore of South Korean society, is no exception. The film's Korean title translates as the cynical Unfair Trading and, with hardly any of the characters uncompromised, it sums up the movie much better than the English one.
From JO Yeong-jin 조영진 as a well-connected property developer to Don LEE 마동석 as a loyal police lieutenant, the casting oozes character from top to bottom, with even tiny roles like a suspect's retarded wife (LEE Mi-do 이미도) succinctly sketched. But the film is driven by its three leads: Ryoo as the corrupt public prosector, South Korean cinema's favourite plug-ugly YU Hae-jin 유해진 as a ruthless "businessman" and, last but not least, HWANG Jeong-min 황정민 | 黃晸玟 (You are My Sunshine 너는 내 운명 (2005), Bloody Tie 사생결단 (2006)) as the loose-cannon, maverick policeman — a role he can play with his eyes closed but here actually fits the versatile actor to a tee.
The movie's main problem is its plot, which is so hard-driven and compact, and with so many characters playing smoke and mirrors, that it requires razor-sharp concentration to follow. Though it does, unlike many South Korean action movies, actually make sense, there are times when a little less complexity would have freed up the viewer to sit back and relish its cleverness rather than expend energy on simply keeping pace with the multiple levels. And believable psychology — always a weakness in Ryoo's movies — is largely ditched. The characters are pawns moved around the playing board at the writers' convenience, with no backgrounding or private lives.
Action staged by maestro JEONG Du-hong 정두홍 has a gritty feel, driven along by JO Yeong-uk 조영욱's noisy, propulsive score and experienced d.p. JEONG Jeong-hun 정정훈's mobile widescreen images. The Unjust is not a crime-action classic, but proves Ryoo still has juice left in him.
ContactSales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 28 Oct 2010.
Presented by CJ Entertainment (SK). Produced by Film Train (SK), Filmmaker R&K (SK). Executive producer: Katharine Kim. Producers: Kim Yun-ho, Gu Beon-han.
Script: Park Hun-jeong. Adaptation: Ryoo Seung-wan, Han Jae-deok, Yeo Mi-jae. Photography: Jeong Jeong-hun. Editing: Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-beom. Music: Jo Yeong-uk. Art direction: Choi Ji-yeon. Costumes: Choi Se-yeon. Sound: Kim Seok-won, Kim Chang-seob. Action: Jeong Du-hong. Visual effects: Lee Ju-ho, Kim Hui-yeong.
Cast: Hwang Jeong-min (Captain Choi Cheol-gi), Ryu Seung-beom (Ju Yang), Yu Hae-jin (Jang Seok-gu), Cheon Ho-jin (Bureau Chief Gang), Don Lee (Lieutenant Ma Dae-ho), Wu Don-gi (Lee Dong-seok), Jo Yeong-jin (TK Chairman Kim Yang-su), Jeong Man-shik (Inspector Gong), Lee Seong-min (chief prosecutor), Kim Su-hyeon (Su-il), Gu Bon-ung (Yun-jjang), Kim Min-jae (Detective Lee), Lee Hui-jun (Detective Nam), Oh Jeong-se (Kim, the reporter), Lee Jong-ju (Representative Goh), Baek Seung-ik (killer), Song Sae-byeok (Cheol-gi's brother-in-law), Goh Seo-hui (Cheol-gi's sister), Gwak Ja-hyeong (Detective Gwak), Jo Jong-geun (Detective Jo), Kim Gi-cheon (old inspector), Lee Do-hyeon (young inspector), Hwang Byeong-guk (defence counsel), Lee Gyeong-mi (forensic examiner), Kim Won-beom (Park, squad leader), Gang Hyeon-joong, Jo Ha-seok (squad members), Lee Mi-do (Dong-seok's wife), Park Ha-yeong (Dong-seok's daughter), Kim Seung-hun (Yu Min-cheol), Jeong Jin-gak (president), Kim Hye-ji (Ju Yang's wife), Park Seo-yeon (Ju Yang's hostess), Gang Hae-in (reporter Kim's hostess), An Gil-gang (team leader), Lee Chun-yeon (National Police Agency head), Lee Jun-ik (President Jeong), Jo Cheol-hyeon, Oh Seung-hyeon (Haedong investors).