Director: Won Shin-Yeon
Writer: Lim Sang-Yoon
Producer: Shin Chang-hwan
Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Hee-Soon, You Da-In, Cho Seong-Ha, Jo Jae-Yun, Kim Sung-Kyun, Park Ji-Il, Won Jin
Running Time: 137 min.
When The Bourne Supremacy first hit theaters back in 2005, the close-quarters handheld camerawork and rapid editing during action sequences had some film-goers claiming they experienced motion sickness rather than popcorn thrills. Soon afterwards, the term ‘shaky cam’ began popping up in critical reviews, and became something of a kiss of death for any martial arts film that wanted to be taken seriously by fans. Many wondered what had become of the wide shots and more classical editing style favored by the great Hong Kong movies of yesteryear.
Fast forward to 2014 and shaky-cam has persisted long enough to become something like its own genre; the technique even gained some legitimacy when it was utilized in a James Bond movie (Quantum of Solace). Thus, it’s safe to conclude that shaky-cam is here to stay, whether some fans want it to or not. It’s a style, and like any style it can be utilized well or poorly by filmmakers. It’s how you use it.
All of this to say: if you don’t like ‘shaky cam,’ then the 2013 Korean action/thriller The Suspect is not a movie that will change your mind. While the film is loaded to the gills with plenty of hand-to-hand combat and car chases, they’re delivered in a somewhat claustrophobic, quick-cut style that harkens back to movies like The Bourne Ultimatum and that other recent Korean spy vehicle, The Berlin File.
While this chaotic style may not do the best job of adequately conveying all the time and effort that the fight choreographers no doubt put into the film, the photography and editing in The Suspect certainly do communicate the adrenaline and disorientation the characters must be experiencing – as though the viewers themselves are hurtling over a rooftop alongside lead actor Gong Yoo in one of the film’s many chase sequences
Speaking of Gong Yoo, the actor was greeted with suspicion (no pun intended) upon being cast in the film. As Yoo is considered more of a romantic and comedic leading man, some audience audience members expressed doubt that he was suited for the role of a super serious spy. If this is your first introduction to Gong Yoo, I don’t think you’ll raise an eyebrow; the actor acquits himself nicely by looking as intense as required during dramatic scenes, and suitably ripped for his shirtless torture sequences.
In The Suspect, he plays a North Korean spy who years ago was betrayed by his government handlers. Concealing the deep wounds of his past, his now spends his day as a high-end chauffeur in the South – until a massive political conspiracy puts him in the crosshairs and sends him back into action. From there, The Suspect rarely slows down, as Gong Yoo works to uncover those pulling the strings and stay one step ahead of the government goons and sleeper agents out to silence him.
The Suspect may not exactly innovate this well-worn formula, but it certainly manages to deliver more thrills than, say, 2012’s Damon-less The Bourne Legacy. It’s only during the final act that the film truly falters, as the story keeps going…and going, right as the credits should have rolled. It’s also a shame that the second half of the film finds so little to do for actor Park Hee-soon, who plays the grizzled bad-ass out to catch Gong Yoo – he’s the Tommy Lee Jones to Gong’s The Fugitive, if you will. Unfortunately, the actor is almost too good at his job; about halfway through the picture, it’s as though the filmmakers sensed Hee-soon was stealing the spotlight from their leading man Gong Yoo and decided to sideline him for the remainder of the movie.
Still, for the majority of its runtime, The Suspect is a damn entertaining time at the movies. If it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the other movies of its kind – for instance, the modern Korean classics The Yellow Sea or The Man From Nowhere – it’s likely the fact that it’s a bit too derivative for its own good; even the soundtrack sounds like a riff on John Powell’s score for The Bourne Identity.
And it must be said: sure, the frantic camerawork and editing are all well and good at connoting the hyper-kinetic situations our hero finds himself in…but at the end of the day, us martial arts buffs would rather be able to catch every single blow. Don’t blame us: it’s just the way we’re wired.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10