Top Korean star Park Joong Hoon returns to the genre which first helped propel him to mega stardom with buddy cop action comedy “Officer of the Year” (aka “The Apprehenders”). Written and directed by first timer Lim Chan Ik, the film has a real old school feel, harking back to the good old days of tough talking, bickering cops trying not to kill each other as they track down a particularly nasty serial rapist. Fans should get a real kick out the fact that having been well known for playing the young upstart in the likes of the seminal “Two Cops” and “Nowhere to Hide”, here he essays the veteran detective role usually taken on by Ahn Sung Ki, with Lee Seon Gyun (“Petty Romance”) as his youthful rival.
The film pits the two against each other as the top dogs of the feuding Seoul police stations of Mapo and Seodaemun. The men have very different styles, with Mapo station chief Jae Sung (Park Joong Hoon) having fought his way up through the ranks and being known for his tough tactics, while Seodaemun newcomer Wei Chan (Lee Seon Gyun) is a top academy graduate still wet behind the ears. The rivalry between the stations comes to a head with the upcoming ‘Officer of the Year’ award, presented to the cop with the highest points for arrests, pushing Jae Sung and Wei Chan into an intense competition for the 30 million won prize. However, when a serial rapist starts stalking the streets, they slowly come to realise that catching criminals is sometimes more important than coming out on top.
“Officer of the Year” sets out its stall from early on, with a mixture of comic banter, police station politics and hard edged action. Despite the film marking his debut, director Lim Chan Ik shows an impressively assured hand at balancing laughs and serious drama, mainly thanks to his witty and intelligent script, which injects a little freshness and energy into the time honoured formula. The comedy in particular is very effective, revolving mainly around wordplay and occasional acts of incompetence, and avoiding the kind of slapstick or wackiness which would have undermined its characters or the basic harshness of its central plot. Whilst working in plenty of effective jokes, the film certainly does have a grim side and a definite social conscience, Lim making a real effort to tackle the issue of rape. Initially referred to by some of the characters as ‘squirt crimes’ and not being pursued with the same vigour as other cases due to their lower arrest points value, much of the film’s drive comes from challenging this belief, a worthy ambition which adds some very welcome depth. Lim achieves this without being too heavy handed, and the film is a fine example of how to make a point without sacrificing entertainment value.
The film also packs in a good amount of action, with a fair few set pieces inserted along the way to keep things moving at a good pace. For the most part these are chase scenes, with Lim going for an interesting angle by having the main criminal being an experienced climber, resulting in lots of rooftop chase scenes and scrambling up drainpipes, not to mention scenic views of the city. The film for the most part has a gritty, almost 1970s type feel, with some split screen work and a lively soundtrack thrown in for good measure. Although the film isn’t particularly violent it does have a handful of brawls and beatings sprinkled throughout, enough so to give it a fittingly rugged feel, even if most of these revolve around Jae Sung and Wei Chan having a go at each other.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s main asset is its cast, with Park Joong Hoon showing again why he has been one of the most popular Korean actors for so many years. Adding a charismatic air that helps balance his character’s many flaws and less than savoury aspects, he makes for a very human and ultimately likeable protagonist. Although Lee Seon Gyun doesn’t have quite so much to do, with his academy graduate being a far more straightforward character, he also performs well in his role, and again proves himself an amiable and talented actor.
“Officer of the Year” is definitely one of the better Korean cop thrillers of the last year, and one of the few to effectively mix action, comedy and social drama. Well directed and scripted by Lim Chan Ik, and with the presence of Park Joong Hoon giving it a real boost, the film makes for fun and exciting viewing, with the added bonus of actually having something to say at the same time.
Lim Chan-ik (director) / Lim Chan-ik, Jin-won Choi (screenplay)
CAST: Joong-Hoon Park … Hwang Jae-seong
Seon-gyun Lee … Jeong Ee-chan
Sung-min Lee … Detective Jo
Jeong-tae Kim … Detective Song
Ju-yeon Ko … Soo-yeon
Soo Yeon Han … Hyeon-sook