The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Veteran is like Beverly Hills Cop remade with the young Jackie Chan. The film, a comic thriller, was a huge hit in its native South Korea, and now arrives on our shores. Director Ryoo Seung-wan (The Unjust) announces his intention to dazzle by opening with Blondie's “Heart of Glass” over a long, complicated steady-cam shot that finds two undercover detectives posing as superficial wheeler-dealers to bust up an international car theft operation. You just know from the first five minutes that you're in for a wild ride.

Hwang Jung-min plays Do-cheol, a smart-ass detective with a penchant for doing things his own way. After nailing those car thieves, he goes to a party at a nightclub where he meets Tae-oh (Yoo Ah-In), the heir to a very large and very profitable corporation called the Sinjin Group. Tae-oh is also a raging narcissist with a vicious temper. Do-cheol believes the young man is a drug addict and wants to bust him; his eternally-exasperated superior officer stands in his way. A short time later, a subcontractor named Bae - who helped Do-cheol in taking on the car thieves - is savagely beaten in Tae-oh's office after approaching him in regard to some overdue wages. (Bae's young son is forced to watch in horror.) The company stages it to look like a suicide attempt, but Do-cheol suspects otherwise. His efforts to investigate lead to many roadblocks, some created by the Sinjin Group, others by the police department itself.

Veteran operates from an undeniably compelling idea, which is that class issues affect the law. Rich people like Tae-oh are able to get away with more, simply because they have money and connections, and because they know how to intermingle those two things. Do-cheol is certain that Tae-oh is guilty of many crimes (beating Bae being just one of them), yet he can't easily make an arrest because of the myriad complications, regulations, and logistics that keep getting in his way. He has to continually use his decidedly not-by-the-book creativity to work around them. Much of the film's fun comes in the way he repeatedly does this. In particular, the detective uses a psychological trick against Tae-oh during their final confrontation that is ingenious in its modern relevance.

Aside from its engaging theme and tight plotting, Veteran is electrifying in the way it generates suspense, abruptly stops to allow for a brief moment of comic relief, then effortlessly resumes the suspense. For instance, there's a chase sequence set among hundreds of large metal shipping containers. A cop pursues a bad guy through them toward a T-shaped intersection (exciting). As they near it, the cop makes a flying leap for the bad guy, misses, and crashes headfirst into one of the containers (played for laughs). Simultaneously, from the left-hand side of the screen, a second cop enters the frame – already in midair, leg extended – and clocks the fleeing criminal just as he's about to round the corner (exciting again). Other scenes are just as good. Do-cheol's fight in a chop shop, where everything becomes a weapon, has the same sort of frantic, almost balletic energy as Jackie Chan's best work, while an extended stunt-filled car chase through busy city streets is staged with such authenticity that you wonder how no one got killed.

Centering it all is the performance from Hwang Jung-min, who gives Do-cheol the quality of being so steadfast in his determination that it occasionally makes him a little loopy. The character acts impulsively and comically, yet also with methodical finesse. This is what makes him such a fascinating hero – he won't let anything stop him from nabbing a criminal, no matter how unorthodox his tactics may be. He has all-in commitment at all times. A great hero needs an equally great villain, and Yoo Ah-In is terrific as the sleazy Tae-oh, perfectly conveying how the character's sense of self-entitlement has reached dangerous extremes. Watching these two go head-to-head is thrilling.

Veteran is relentlessly paced and frequently funny. At the same time, it finds plenty of room for character and plot development. Action movies are a dime a dozen, but it's hard to find one that so masterfully mixes hardcore action with a sense of playfulness. Ryoo Seung-wan has delivered a winner. Veteran is a total blast, and we need more like it.

( 1/2 out of four)

Veteran is unrated, but contains strong violence and adult language. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.

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