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Mismatched cop buddy films have long been popular in Korean cinema, from the classic paring of Ahn Sung Ki and Park Joong Hoon in the 1993 hit “Two Cops” through to Park’s recent 2011 outing “Officer of the Year”. Director Hwang Byung Guk offers his own take on the tried and tested form with “SIU”, starring Uhm Tae Woong (“Cyrano Agency”) and popular young television star Joo Won (“Ojakgyo Brothers”) as the sparring partners. As well as the usual mix of action and comedy, the film also pitches itself as a conspiracy thriller, exploring the theme of corruption in the police force.
The film revolves around the Special Investigation Unit of the title, formed after a cop is found dead with drugs scattered around his body. The team is lead by two men with very different approaches, grumpy, rule bending veteran detective Sung Bum (Uhm Tae Woong) and fast rising young psychological profiler Ho Ryong (Joo Woon). Although the two are soon butting heads over their contrasting methods, they are forced to pool their efforts when it becomes clear that the trail of drugs and dead bodies leads back to their own department.
Whilst “SIU” certainly does stick to the formula, Hwang Byung Guk generally manages to focus on what fans love about Korean cop buddy films, successfully attaining the all important balance between action, tough cop drama and humour. Similarly, although both Sung Bum and Ho Ryong are fairly broad, instantly recognisable genre figures, the two actors are on good, likeable form and the sharp script gives them plenty to work with. Their relationship is predictable but fun, and Hwang never overplays their differences for the kind of cheap comedy which might have undermined their believability as police officers. To be fair, the film does work in a few character development twists along the way and for these do work well to help keep things interesting.
It’s probably just as well that the film’s characters are relatively simplistic, since the plot itself crams in an incredible amount of scheming, manipulation and deception, with pretty much every clue or lead the protagonists follow up leading to another. Although this means that the film is never boring, and Hwang definitely wins points for vision and ambition, things do get a bit confusing and convoluted at times, not least due to almost every member of the large supporting cast being highlighted as a suspect at one point or another. This does make the film rather exhausting, though everything comes together fairly neatly at the end, the final act coming to a satisfying, if unsurprising conclusion. The corruption theme is well handled, and the film benefits from a few touches of non-judgemental humanism along the way, offering a convincing depiction of the moral difficulties inherent in police work.
Hwang thankfully offsets the film’s at times gratuitous complexity by also throwing in a fair amount of action, with plenty of shootouts, chases and fight scenes. This keeps the film from ever getting too dry or tangled up in its labyrinth plot, and it moves along at a decent pace, with only a few lags during the exposition heavy middle section. His direction is slick and stylish, though at the same time with a hard edge, nicely complimenting the film’s themes and overall gritty feel.
There’s certainly enough here to please buddy cop or police drama fans, and though not offering anything new besides an exceedingly intricate and involved plot, “SIU” makes for entertaining viewing in the style of the genre. Korean cinema has shown itself particularly skilled at this kind of film over the last couple of decades, and Hwang Byung Guk’s debut is a worthy addition to the roster.
Byeong-guk Hwang (director) / Byeong-guk Hwang (screenplay)
CAST: Tae-woong Eom … Kim Seong-beom
Won Joo … Kim Ho-ryong
Jin-yeong Jeong … Hwang Doo-soo
Dong-il Song … Park In-moo
Tae-im Lee … Jeong Yeong-soon
Jeong-tae Kim … Park Kyeong-sik