Byeong-jin Min’s first effort, This is Law, is the kind of film that should be sued for false advertisement — at least according to what the movie’s poster (as seen above) promises. Not only is the movie not an action film, but it’s also a very poor crime drama. Add to that the fact that female lead Eun-kyung Shin (My Wife is a Gangster) touches her gun for about a second toward the end and never even gets to draw the weapon again, much less point it at anyone, and I’m calling my lawyer.
This is Law is not a comedy, not exactly an action film, and it isn’t much of a crime drama. The plot concerns a South Korean police task force known as the STF (what STF stands for exactly I’m not sure) that manages the city’s big criminal investigations. The STF is led by chief Detective Pyo (Min-jong Kim), a serious and talented cop, and consists of an assortment of characters including Eun-kyung Shin as a computer expert (her character’s name escapes me, and that should tell you something about my (lack of) interest in this movie while watching it).
The STF is chasing a vigilante killer known as Dr. Q who is such a nice guy that he has his own internet website where he uploads his kills for all to see. (Could you imagine the hits this guy must get?) When one of Dr. Q’s victims turn out to be the STF’s boss, things start to get complicated. Dr. Q says he didn’t kill the STF boss, but if he didn’t, who did, and for what nefarious purposes?
I was looking forward to seeing This is Law, mostly because of two factors: the poster looked nice, and it starred Eun-kyung Shin, who I had enjoyed tremendously in My Wife is a Gangster, in a lead role. Needless to say, the poster lied, and Shin’s character was so peripheral and unnecessary that I didn’t even remember her character’s name. I could put all the blame for This is Law’s poor plotting and unfocused characters on its first-time writer/director Byeong-jin Min, but I’m somewhat disheartened that Shin would choose such a lesser project, especially after the near-brilliance of Gangster.
The film itself is a muddled mess, although I did enjoy the fact that the hunt for the vigilante killer turned out to be only a subplot and instead worked as a transition into the film’s central plot concerning a group of crooked cops who are laundering money through and cavorting with some Korean gangsters and shady businessmen. The bulk of the movie involves the STF trying to locate a leak in their office (those crooked cops again) and chasing a man who may know what all of this is about and has the evidence (in the form of a cellphone, no less) to prove it.
I have often shown concern about the Hong Kong need to inject slapstick humor with serious situations, as in the case with movies such as Gen-X Cops and its sequel. This is Law follows that formula to a point, mostly in the form of Im Won-hee as Bong, a lowly Homicide Detective who, along with his veteran partner, gets a chance to join the STF. Bong is clearly set up here as the movie’s funny man, as he employs a wide variety of facial expressions that all seem to look the same.
In fact, Won-hee’s Bong seems to have exactly two facial expressions: the “shock” look and the “poor me” look, unfortunately they both look the same. Won-hee is one of those Asians whose face looks like a ball of rice, and as a result, Bong talks like he has a mouth full of marbles. I kid you not. Although I didn’t understand a thing he was saying (I don’t speak Korean) I’m quite sure there’s a lot of Koreans out there who finds his mumbling to be a tad hard to understand.
The problem with the Bong character is that he’s such an obvious comedy ploy that he becomes a gimmick, especially in light of the movie’s more serious tone. It also doesn’t help that Bong goes “bug eyes” over Eun-kyung Shin’s character and has the personality of an 8-year old just discovering hormones and breasts.
Direction by first-timer Min is standard. Early in the movie Min chooses to lens the action scenes with varied film speed, but oddly declines to continue the technique for the rest of the movie. The writing is as uneven as the direction, as things go from comical to juvenile to serious at the drop of a hat. Also, the movie simply has too many characters, and I found myself losing track of who was who from time to time.
The childish subplot with Bong and Shin’s character is also irritatingly uninteresting and childish in execution. Of course, it doesn’t help that the subplot was written as childish in the first place. Uninvolving is the right word for This is Law. The film runs almost 2 hours — 2 hours of pure tedium.
Byeong-jin Min (director) / Byeong-jin Min (screenplay)
CAST: Min-jong Kim, Yim Won-Hee, Eun-Kyung Shin