“Codename: Jackal” (aka “Jackal is Coming”) got a lot of interest for the fact that it stars K-pop star and JYJ member Kim Jae Joong in the male lead role, marking his big screen debut proper after appearing in the television series “Dr Jin” and “Protect the Boss”. Directed by Bae Hyeong Jun (“Once Upon a Time in Seoul”), the film is a comedy about kidnapping and assassination, with actress Song Ji Hyo (“A Frozen Flower”) playing opposite Kim in the female lead, and support from Oh Dal Soo (“The Thieves”) and Han Sang Jin (“Tree with Deep Roots”) as a pair of cops trying to track down the mysterious killer of the title.
Appropriately enough, Kim Jae Joong plays pop superstar Hyun, who in an attempt to hide from the spotlight and the attention of his stalkers heads to Seongju and shacks up in the town’s only hotel, the most undeservedly named Paradise Hotel. Unfortunately for him, the police are staking out the hotel, tipped off that a famous assassin known as the Jackal is set to carry out a job. Matter get even worse for the already annoyed Hyun when a hit woman called Min Jung (Song Ji Hyo) turns up to kill him, allegedly having been hired by an enraged ex-girlfriend. Managing to half convince her that he’s only a Hyun lookalike, she takes him hostage instead, tying him to a chair while she tries to work out what to do. Inevitably, things get more and more complicated, as a series of odd and unexpected visitors turn up and the police move in, convinced they have the Jackal in their grasp.
Like many Korean films, “Codename: Jackal” is a real genre-blending mixed bag, and though at heart it’s basically a wacky high premise comedy, director Bae Hyeong Jun also throws in espionage, thriller and, of course, romance elements. All of this seems to have been pulled together without too much thought or planning, and the result is a fairly random film, which frequently jets off on strange tangents, introducing and then ditching characters and subplots on a whim. The plot itself makes little sense, going round and round in circles and often repeating itself, with the main question as to who, if indeed anyone, is really the Jackal being handled clumsily, leading up to a confusing ending which comes out of nowhere.
Still, the lack of sense has never been too big an obstacle when it comes to enjoying films like this, and Bae certainly doesn’t seem to have been taking things too seriously at all, and as such the haphazard narrative and unbalanced tone have a kind of unpredictable charm. Leaping around as it does, the film is certainly never boring, and it moves briskly through its hour and forty five minute run time in amiable fashion, with some genuinely funny moments along the way. Again, though there’s nothing too cleverly constructed about the gags, the combination of slapstick with occasional flash of violence and abuse works well, and most of the cast add to the overall air of fun by clearly being daftness of it all.
The cast really do give the film a boost, in particular leading couple Kim Jae Joong and Song Ji Hyo, both of whom are on amusing and likeable form throughout. There’s a bizarre and almost perverse chemistry between the pair, and while this never translates into real romance (thankfully something which Bae doesn’t push for too hard), there’s definitely something between them, and this curious dynamic helps to keep the viewer watching and guessing. This is just as well, since most of the film revolves around the two of them alone in a hotel room, something which surprisingly never gets dull. Kim and Ji are quality stars with real screen presence, and though the film itself does seem a little low budget, their pairing adds a very welcome touch of class, allowing it to punch considerably above its weight.
Despite its flaws, “Codename: Jackal” is really quite enjoyable in its own way, and another good example of the kind of everything but the kitchen sink cinema that Korea does so well. Though most likely to appeal to fans of Kim Jae Joong (who certainly won’t be disappointed), it’s a modest crowd-pleaser of a film which should go down well enough with most people.
Hyeong-jun Bae (director) / Sang-ho Oh (screenplay)
CAST: Jae-Joong Kim … Choi Hyun
JaeJoong Kim … Choi Hyun
Ji-hyo Song … Bong Min-jung
Dal-su Oh … Ma Ban-jang
Seong-ryeong Kim … Angela