Director: Huh Jong-Ho
Writer: Choi Kwan-yeong, Lee Gong-joo
Cast: Lee Sun-Kyun, Kim Go-Eun, Lim Won-Hee, Jang Hyun-Sung, Hong Sung-Duk, Kim Yoon-hye, Kwak In-joon, Choi Jae-woong, Park Ji-yeong, Choi Kyoo-hwan
Running Time: 117 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Korean cinema has a habit of churning out inferior copycats to the movies that make an impact both on home soil and overseas. That’s why for every The Man from Nowhere we have a Man of Vendetta, and for every Masquerade we have a Memories of the Sword. Whether it be a suspiciously similar story, or the casting of a certain actor in an almost identical role, the copycats rarely stand up on their own two feet, and tend to become quickly forgotten. Part of this comes down to the fact that, regardless of the quality of the production, there’s no escaping the obvious fact that the movies in question would never have been given the green light, if not for the success of the title they’ve been inspired by
A Hard Day was one of the surprise hits of 2013, directed and written by Kim Seong-hoon, the movie has Lee Seon-gyoon playing a cop frantically trying to cover up the body of a man he accidentally kills in a hit and run incident. As much as it’s a thriller, A Hard Day also works just as effectively as a dark comedy, punctuated with some brief bursts of entertaining action. A couple of years later, and we have The Advocate: A Missing Body, which gives us Lee Seon-gyoon playing an incredibly confident lawyer, who’s frantically trying to find the body of a female that’s been the victim of a brutal murder. It just so happens that he’s the lawyer of the number one suspect. So in 2 years Seon-gyoon has gone from being a cop trying to hide a body, to a lawyer trying to find a body.
The Advocate: A Missing Body is directed by Heo Jong-ho, and the movie marks his sophomore effort after 2011’s thriller Countdown. Working from a script by Choi Kwan-yeong and Lee Gong-joo, the pair have put together an effective piece of crime storytelling. Kwan-yeong was himself involved in adapting the previously mentioned A Hard Day, and was also responsible for scripting the fantastic 2009 effort Bedevilled. Gong-joo on the other hand is clearly the less experienced of the pair, having only previously scripted the average horror Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp, and the Ryoo Seung-beom starring Suspect X. Regardless of this though, the pair have crafted a nicely constructed tale of blind sides and double crosses.
Where The Advocate: A Missing Body really goes wrong then, is in the execution. When we’re first introduced to Seon-gyoon’s lawyer character, for the first 30 minutes he’s almost insufferable. Overly confident to the point of arrogance, swaggering about, and clicking finger guns to the female staff at his office, it’s difficult to describe him as anything other than annoying. He’s paired with Im Won-hee, a familiar face of mid-budget Korean productions and favorite of director Ryoo Seung-wan (most notably he played the title role in Dachimawa Lee), however as performers they don’t really seem to gel, and never become entirely convincing as partners.
Seon-gyoon’s lawyer thankfully has a serious blow delivered to his confidence when, at the 30 minute mark, the suspect he’s worked so hard to try and convince the courtroom of is innocent, stands up and confesses to the murder. Having convinced a pair of the suspects friends to lie in court about the suspects relationship with the victim, when this revelation also comes to light his reputation is left in tatters. The only catch is that the body of the victim was never located, which remains Seon-gyoon’s sole piece of information to try and piece together exactly what’s going on and redeem himself as an upholder of justice.
While his reputation has been tarnished, his wits certainly haven’t been, and part of the appeal of The Advocate: A Missing Body comes down to watching Seon-gyoon smartly figure his way out of various conundrums he finds himself in. He has a capable match in actress Kim Go-eun, who goes from initially playing the prosecutor in the case, to someone that comes around to Seon-gyoon’s feeling that everything may not be as clear cut as it seems. Go-eun is one of Korea’s best up and coming actresses. After making her debut in 2012’s erotically charged drama A Muse, she turned in an equally impressive performance in Coin Locker Girl, and does so again here. While she’s made a couple of missteps along the way, notably with roles in flops like Monster, and most recently Memories of the Sword, there’s no denying Go-eun has a lot of talent.
Despite the caliber of the performers involved, and the quality of the script, there’s no escaping the pedestrian direction that the production suffers from. In many ways it’s easy to draw comparisons to Chronicles of Evil, also released in 2015, which similarly draws on the success of A Hard Day, crafting a tale of a cop trying to cover up the accidental killing of a random stranger. Both productions seems to suffer from the fact that neither have the same budget behind them as the movie that inspired them, and more importantly, neither seem to have the same passion. Despite the various predicaments that Seon-gyoon finds himself in, and there are many, there’s a distinct lack of urgency that surrounds any of the action taken as a result of circumstance. Even when he has to resort to chasing a motorcycle on foot, the lack of any excitement or danger sticks out like a sore thumb. As an audience we’re watching it, but we’re far from being involved in it.
During the final third, Jong-ho also makes a fatal error that perhaps points to his lack of experience as a director. By this time it’s been well and truly established how smart Seon-gyoon is, and his ability to stay one step ahead of those wanting to tarnish his name. However when a plot revelation is revealed which sees him deciding to side with the villains, there’s no way on earth any self respecting audience member would believe he’s truly become a bad guy. Jong-ho should be aware of this, so at the very least could have delivered a visual wink to the audience, assuring us that we’re along for the ride. However it seems he also presumes we should fall for his act of siding with the villains, making the whole episode a chore to get through, as we’re simply left waiting for it to be revealed that he’s still a good guy, rather than being told the obvious from the beginning.
Ultimately The Advocate: A Missing Body is difficult to review precisely because of how average it is. It’s not that bad, but at the same time it’s far from being good. Both here and with Chronicles of Evil, I was left with the distinct impression that both productions would have benefited from being made in the TV drama format, rather than a feature length production. There’s nothing decidedly cinematic about Jong-ho’s movie, and it’s mostly strung together with scenes that consist of characters talking to each other to propel the plot forward, in other words – perfect Korean TV drama material. As it stands though, judging The Advocate: A Missing Body as a mid-budget crime thriller, it passes the time much the same way as an episode of Columbo or Ironside. Whether that’s a compliment or not, is for the audience to decide.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10