Although Korean thriller “Troubleshooter” marks the debut of writer director Kwon Hyeok Jae, the helmer already has an impressive pedigree in the genre, having worked on popular hits “The City of Violence” and “Dachimawa Lee” with Ryoo Seung Wan. Kwon has certainly picked up the tricks of the trade from Ryoo, who also co-wrote the film’s script, mixing hard hitting action with complex plotting and touches of wry humour. The film has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the “Public Enemy” himself, Sol Kyung Gu, who again finds himself as an outsider figure coming up against corruption, murder and political machinations. This time round he faces off against Lee Jung Jin (“Once Upon a Time in High School”) as the film’s chief villain, with support from Oh Dal Soo (“The Servant”) and Moon Jung Hee (from the television series “Oh! My Lady” and “Air City”).
Gu plays seedy private eye Tae Sik, who spends most of his time taking pictures of unfaithful spouses while trying to take care of his young daughter. After taking on what seems like a straightforward job he turns up at love motel, only to come face to face with a woman’s corpse and to find that he has been framed for her murder. Fleeing the scene, he is contacted by the mysterious mastermind behind the setup (Lee Jung Jin), who informs him that in order to clear his name he will have to carry out the kidnapping of a prosecutor. However this turns out only to be the tip of the iceberg of a far reaching and murderous plot, which Take Sik has to get to the bottom of in order to save himself.
Although the plot of “Troubleshooter” may sound pretty familiar, it’s actually a very effective mix of modern noir and conspiracy thriller, revolving around a surprisingly complex and often confusing scheme, with a variety of different characters all playing off against each other for their own ends. The film’s main asset is the excellent script from Kwon and Ryoo, which has an impressive number of unpredictable twists and turns, quite neatly mixing its various elements into a coherent and compelling whole. Since they take the approach of never spoon feeding obvious answers from the start, keeping the viewer in the dark along with Tae Sik, things do get a bit baffling at times, though thankfully everything is brought together effectively at the end, without too much in the way of contrivance. At the same time, the plot avoids hinging everything on one single big revelation, relying instead on a series of clever shifts and character reversals. This proves to be a smart move, not least since most genre-savvy viewers will probably have guessed the identity of the sinister phone caller before the halfway mark, and by having so much going on Kwon and Ryoo ensure that things stay taut throughout.
The film also packs in a fair amount of action, and is generally fast moving and exciting despite a somewhat overstretched running time. Things unsurprisingly escalate towards the end, and there are a few solid set pieces along the way, with Kwon proving himself perfectly capable of handling car chases, shoot outs and bouts of fisticuffs. On this score the film has a pleasingly old school feel, without too much in the way of flashy technical tricks or slow motion, and this works well to give things a bit of a gritty edge that sits comfortably with the subject material.
The film does largely rest upon the shoulders of Sol Kyung Gu and without straying too far from his usual screen persona he makes for a likeably irascible and pushy protagonist. Although Tae Sik isn’t quite the same extreme rebel as Kang Chul Joong in “Public Enemy”, he’s still a conflicted and morally intriguing figure, basically good-hearted but well used to bending the rules. Lee Jung Jin is also on good form as his nemesis, showing a pleasingly cunning and ruthless streak from early on and being only too happy to bump off his own collaborators as well as anyone who crosses him. Such aggressive personalities ensure that the cat and mouse game which plays out between the two men grows increasingly intense, and their clash of wills is gripping and only ever likely to end in one way.
All of this is tempered with a few well-judged moments of humour, and though rough and tough at times, “Troubleshooter” makes for fun and entertaining viewing. Benefitting from a complicated plot and a likeably dogged protagonist, it stands as a fine detective conspiracy thriller and is definitely worth checking out by anyone who enjoyed “Public Enemy” and its peers.
Kwon Hyeok-jae (director) / Kim Jeong-min-II, Kwon Hyeok-jae, Ryoo Seung-wan (screenplay)
CAST: Seol Kyeong-gu