Buddy cop dramas have long been a mainstay of the Korean thriller genre, something which industry legend Ahn Sung Ki must be only too aware of. Certainly, the renowned actor has featured in more than his fair share, most notably Lee Myung Se’s classic “Nowhere to Hide” and Kang Woo Suk’s “Two Cops”, in both of which he starred alongside his frequent screen partner Park Joong Hoon. Here, he returns with “My New Partner” for director Kim Jong Hyun, though this time playing a rather different style of policeman than he has done in the past, headling alongside Jo Han Sun, best known for the romance “Now and Forever”, though who has had a taste of action before with the gangster film “Cruel Winter Blues”.
Jo plays Young Joon, an internal affairs officer whose case investigating corruption and a drugs ring leads him to Pusan. Here, he finds himself forced to work with his police chief father Min Ho (Ahn Sung Ki), who he hasn’t seen for eight years, and who he has long harboured a grudge against for his taking bribes, blaming him for the death of his mother. Inevitably, the two are soon butting heads, clashing in their methods and in their personal lives. When the case takes off, with the trail leading up the chain of authority as it usually does, the unlikely and unwilling father and son team are forced to put aside their differences in the name of justice.
“My New Partner” is a film which works on a number of levels, with director Kim managing to pull off the difficult feat of balancing action and human drama, at the same time throwing in a little comedy to keep things from getting either too serious or too melodramatic. The film’s success is in part down to the fact that the characters are a fascinating, engaging bunch, in particular Min Ho, who Ahn Sung Ki, stealing the show as usual, brings to life with a mixture of charm and scruffiness, making him likeable despite his flaws. Young Joon is a far more interesting figure than he might have been, with Jo Han Sun adding a repressed warmth, which offsets the character’s stiffness. The supporting cast are similarly amiable bunch, and Kim gets a lot of mileage out of their banter, giving a winning sense of camaraderie that nicely pulls the viewer into the story and their lives without ever having to resort to cheap emotion.
Thematically, as expected the film deals mainly with the father-son dynamic, something that has obviously been covered countless times elsewhere. However, the cop context does give it a fresh twist, and allows for some amusing situations, for example regarding exactly who should be calling whom ‘sir’. Similarly, this also helps lift the film above the usual mismatched partners, odd couple style of cop shenanigans, again allowing the proceedings to work on two levels at once. Family is a primary concern, and Kim explores it on both sides of the law, leading to a fair bit of moral substance, with shades of grey being very much the order of the day. The plot itself is well handled, with the basic central mystery as to the identity of the traitor in the police ranks being surprisingly gripping, keeping the viewer guessing for most of the running time as to whether or not Min Ho has turned over a new leaf or whether he is involved in the crime. Although basically familiar stuff, with the influence of “Public Enemy” and “Two Cops” being apparent throughout, and with the villains proving to be the usual incompetent lot, there are a few effective twists and turns down the road to the tense finale.
Kim directs with an assured hand, and the film moves along at an efficient pace, with some tight editing to keep things slick. The pounding soundtrack gives things a kinetic feel, and the judiciously used split screen work helps generate a suitably old school atmosphere, which fits well with the gritty subject matter. The film is suspenseful and exciting throughout, with Kim gradually building up the action, letting things fly with a few bursts early on, mainly in the form of chase scenes, before packing in a rush of bloody violence and mass brawls during the last act. This gives the film exactly the kind of thrilling conclusion it deserves, and Kim thankfully keeps a steady hand when it comes to sacrificing a couple of cast members in the name of realism.
This proves to be the icing on the cake, and confirms “My New Partner” as a piece of highly enjoyable cinema in the classic genre manner. Although cop thrillers are common enough, they rarely achieve this kind of timeless quality, which comes not only from action, but also from believable human drama, and as such the film stands recommended even for viewers not normally a fan of the form.
Kim Jong-hyeon (director) / Kim Jong-hyeon (screenplay)
CAST: Ahn Seong-gi, Jo Han-seon, Jeong Seok-yong, Jo Jin-woong, Lee Eun-ji, Choi Il-hwa, Park Cheol-min, Seon Woo-seon, Jeong In-gi