TIFF movie review: Veteran

Only 만: ★★★★

Side Dish: In one scene, Do Cheol’s team has to scarf down their jjajangmyeon delivery while on a stakeout. Avoid this situation by making your own at home with this recipe from Beyond Kimchee.

It’s not my normal MO, but I’m going to start this review with a warning: if you’re going to watch Veteran just to stare at Yoo Ah In being pretty, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not that he doesn’t look good; it’s just that he’s so spectacularly evil as chaebol heir, Cho Tae Oh, that it’s hard to find him attractive. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a great action movie, then you’re in luck because that’s exactly what Veteran delivers.

In the midst of closing the case that could be the making of his career, loose cannon cop Seo Do Cheol (Hwang Jung Min) barrels his way into the case of a mysterious suicide attempt in a building owned by Cho Tae Oh (Yoo Ah In). The two men go head to head, as Tae Oh uses his considerable resources to escape justice, and Do Cheol uses his considerable tenacity to make sure Tae Oh gets what’s coming to him.

At the screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, director Ryoo Seung Wan stated that Veteran was not only influenced by 80s action movies like Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, and Police Story, but also classic cartoon, Tom and Jerry. You can see where he’s coming from, as the hard-boiled, but wise-cracking Do Cheol cuts a swath through the bad guys. In one of the earlier sequences, Do Cheol dodges a sledge hammer that rebounds on his attacker, whacking him on the head. In a later chase sequence through a container port, Do Cheol repeatedly gets wedged in between two containers, and has to be pulled out by the criminal he’s pursuing.

Hwang Jung Min is the centre of the movie as Do Cheol, combining a perpetually pained expression with fantastic comedic timing and a knack for the physical aspects of the role. The real menace of the film comes from Tae Oh, a character who from the get-go is painted as an entitled and twitchy sociopath who habitually abuses the people around him. The violence goes from cartoonish to genuinely scary when Tae Oh doles it out, and each successive appearance only ups the ante. In his first scene, Tae Oh burns one of his bodyguards to speed up an arm-wrestling match, then repeatedly shoves fruit into his girlfriend’s face. By the end, he’s broken someone’s foot in a sparring match, forced two people to fight for his entertainment, and taken a golf club to his own dog. Between this, and Yoo Ah In’s nervy performance, Tae Oh becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch; this is not a villain you can root for.

Veteran‘s action sequences spotlight Ryoo’s flair for directing. In particular, the final sequence flawlessly mixes fight scenes, a car chase, and humour, as Do Cheol and his team invade Tae Oh’s inner sanctum during a party. The tension is on high as Do Cheol relentlessly pursues the loathsome Tae Oh out of the building, into a parking lot, through the streets of Seoul and into a crowded shopping area without missing a beat. The final fight goes on too long, but this is nitpicking; it’s still a great scene.

Ryoo wrote as well as directed Veteran, and his script is tight, with little wasted time. He doesn’t sacrifice characterization either, weaving character defining scenes into the story. Oh Dal Su as Team Leader Oh is a standout, but I also really enjoyed Jang Yoon Ju as the cop with the flying kick, Jin Kyung as Do Cheol’s tough, long-suffering wife, and Cheon Ho Jin as the police superintendent. It’s probably not the case, but I’d like to think the actors had fun doing this movie, because that’s how it looks.

Veteran is a blockbuster in South Korea, and is soon to be released in North America. According to Ryoo, a sequel is already in the works, and for once, I’m actually excited about it.

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