“The Beast” is another Korean kidnap thriller, written and directed by first timer Hwang Yu Sik and starring up and coming actor Jung Suk Won, making his big screen leading man debut after winning over viewers in popular television series such as “Dr. Champ”. As its title suggests, the film is a tough and violent affair, set in the murky world of online pornography, and also stars Jeon Se Hong, who previously had an unpleasant brush with kidnapping in the exploitation outing “Missing” and Lee Na Ri (“Sleeping Beauty”).
Jung Suk Won plays Tae Hoon, a young man set to join an elite military group as part of his national service when he receives word that his model sister Bo Ra (Lee Na Ri) has been kidnapped while out on a job and that she is to be forced to appear on a shady online porn website. When the police prove unwilling to help, he goes AWOL from the army, and with the help of his sister’s friend Se Yeon (Jeon Se Hong) he sets out to find her, coming up against criminals, cops and even his military comrades as the clock ticks down.
Unsurprisingly, “The Beast” is a film very much in the style of “The Man from Nowhere”, “A Bittersweet Life” and the like, basically following a stoic, pained tough protagonist type as he beats his way through bad guys on the way to his goal. Hwang Yu Sik certainly sticks pretty closely to the themes and motifs laid down by these hits, and the film plays out largely as expected, Tae Hoon’s investigation progressing through clues earned mainly through his fists as he works his way up the chain. To be fair, Hwang does attempt to carve the film its own identity, with a few occasional flashes of off the wall dark humour, and the military angle adds a slightly different flavour, especially during the final act. On the other hand, whilst it may lack originality, the film is admirably concise and uncluttered, being free of any needless conspiracy subplots or sudden revelations, and Hwang’s straightforward approach works well, the tightly written and tense script keeping things moving at a fast pace through the short 90 minute running time.
Jung Suk Won does a fine job in the lead role, and Tae Hoon makes for a slightly more human protagonist than the often machine like anti-heroes seen in such films. Despite his military connections and obvious fighting skills, he also takes his fair share of beatings, and the film is more exciting and hard edged for the fact that he frequently runs into trouble when taking on his opponents. It’s fortunate that he does manage to carry the film, as the rest of the cast are pretty faceless, Jeon Se Hong not having a great deal to do apart from tagging along at his heel – though the film wins points for mostly underplaying the relationship between the two instead of letting the expected romance get in the way.
Appropriately, the porn website villains are thoroughly nasty sorts, and even though their scheme never really makes much sense, it sets them up as perfect fodder for their inevitable whippings, as well as giving the film a respectable air of moral outrage. Perhaps oddly, despite its subject matter and setting, the film generally avoids any sleaze or sexual content, not that this is necessarily a bad thing, and it never comes across as exploitative. Hwang does however pack in plenty of action and violence, with Tae Hoon showing himself to have quite the temper as he hands out rough justice to pretty much everyone who crosses his path. The film maintains its believable edge throughout, and by shying away from set pieces or anything too over the top it has an air of threat and danger which further ups the suspense.
Whilst there’s nothing new here or anything too outstanding, “The Beast” is another solid and well crafted gritty Korean thriller, which should definitely please fans of the form. Rookie director Hwang Yu Sik and star Jung Suk Won are on good form, and help to lift the film up several notches, boding well for both their futures.
Hwang Yoo-sik (director)
CAST: Jeong Seok-won