I nearly gave Kim Joo-Hwan’s new South Korean Chungnyeon gyungchal/Midnight Runners a miss. The overseas notices weren’t all that enthusiastic but, encouraged by A Taxi Driver and the fact that the Chinese fantasy film in the multiplex had already started, I switched to this one - good choice.
It starts off with young Seo-joon Park and Ha-neul Kang inducted into the Korean
National Police Academy with the usual jokes about military haircuts, abrasive
instructors and punishing work outs. The bond between the two leads develops out of the fact that one is a food fetishist who lets the other one eat the two preservative packed mini sausages off his regulation lunch tray.
With graduation looming, they rough up a fellow student till he tells them that he
managed to pick up a girl at the Octagon Club in town (Yongin?) and in borrowed outfits they head there, only to find the glamorous young women laughing at them.
Back on the night time streets, they are passed by a girl in a pink jacket and go
rock-paper- scissors on who will move on her, almost missing the fact that she gets sapped and dragged into one of those menacing movie black (well dark green) vans. The regular police channels will drag the investigation past the limit the pair have been told about for solving kidnaps so they go it alone, following an investigation through an erotic ear wax removal clinic and out distancing on foot the car cops they don’t want to run them in - and here the piece takes off when the duo realise that, in the City’s menacing Chinatown where the regular police won’t go, they are outside their experience and in deep stuff.
The runaway girl’s face under the door calling “Help me mister” is alarming to them and to the audience. Biffo, getting hung up by the wrists, sprinting for the cop shop and being manacled for having no I.D. follows for the now battered pair.
Dong-il Sung their professor shows up and does a brief investigation confirming that they have located a human egg farming racket but tells them that the authorities are so far behind in their case load that, by the time things go through channels, the girl victims will be beyond help.
The piece goes through one of its two changes of pace - the one that doesn’t work - as the pair go vigilante, deciding that their careers can be wiped off and their training is unlikely to be equal to the criminal menace they want to confront. Nice scene of embarrassed Sung lecturing on a procedure he was unwilling to follow in the field.
It’s time to taser bad hats and smash the hulking opponent through safety glass partitions before confronting the odious gynaecologist we have seen producing the girl’s bogus ID for potential egg buyers with the guarantee “I promise you the most beautiful baby in the world.”
And then the film does a more welcome flip with all the characters taking the position that the audience now shares and a really nice ending to send the hardest hearts out with a grin.
We’re not talking peak Quentin Tarantino here but this one gives an on-form Phil
Karlson a run for his money. Korean movies seem to be coming out of their ultraviolence phase, retaining some of its elements but taking on the humor and superior production values of say the Jump Street movies. This one is superior popular entertainment and I’m looking forward to the promised number two.
Move fast. It’s likely to vanish.