Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Writer: Ryoo Seung-wan
Producer: Kang Hye-Jung
Cast: Hwang Jeong-Min, Yu A-In, Yu Hae-Jin, Oh Dal-Su, Jang Yun-Joo, Oh Dae-Hwan, Kim Si-Hu, Jeong Woong-In, Jeong Man-Sik, Cheon Ho-Jin, Song Young-Chang, Jin Kyung, Lee Dong-Hwi, Yu In-Young, Bae Sung-Woo
Running Time: 123 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Director Ryoo Seung-wan is a familiar name to fans of Korean action cinema, ever since his debut Die Bad in 2000, he’s consistently delivered a series of movies which combine action with a strong narrative. Since his riotous parody of old school Korean action movies with 2008’s Dachimawa Lee, the director has taken a decidedly darker approach, with both The Unjust and The Berlin File exploring the not so pleasant side of life. While both contained plenty of his trademarks, Seung-wan himself expressed a desire to move away from these darker tales, and get back to the type of action movies that he watched in his youth, those that existed in a brighter world where the good guy wins.
Veteran is that return, and is arguably his most successful production to date. At the time of writing, Seung-wan’s latest has surpassed US$1M at the US box office, which is no small feat for a Korean movie, and become the third most watched production of all time domestically. Pushing out Avatar, Korea’s top 3 most watched movies are now all domestic productions released between summer 2014 – summer 2015 (the first is The Admiral: Roaring Currents, and second Ode to My Father), perhaps indicating a new golden era for the Korean film industry.
On watching Veteran, it’s easy to see why. Seung-wan is once again paired with Korea’s best action choreographer and frequent collaborator, Jung Doo-hong, and together the end result is the director’s tightest movie to date. Hwang Jeong-min takes the lead role (also the star of Ode to My Father), and he gets plenty of chances to flex the action muscle which he showed a knack for in Fists of Legend and The New World. Playing an experienced detective, when one of his friends suspiciously attempts to commit suicide, all leads point to an arrogant corporate heir played by Yoo Ah-in. There are a whole bunch of supporting characters, on both sides of the law, however the story basically boils down to Jeong-min trying to get to the truth about what happened to his friend.
Jeong-min and Seung-wan have collaborated together before, when the actor played the lead in the 2010 thriller The Unjust. While in that movie he was also playing a detective, here his role couldn’t be any further away from the previous incarnation. Essentially playing the heart and soul of the movie, Jeong-min confidently swaggers his way though proceedings, never afraid to deliver a punch to the face of someone who deserves it, and thankfully the plot delivers a fair few that do. As the movie opens to the thumping soundtrack of ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie, he sets himself up to infiltrate a car smuggling ring, by hiding in the trunk of a vehicle set to be reconditioned. When events transpire that see him alone in a small garage against a group of angry gangsters, a fantastically choreographed scene plays out that displays more than a few nods to Jackie Chan, as various props are utilized in increasingly imaginative ways.
The Jackie Chan influence is also very visible in the way humor is incorporated into the action scenes, with several laugh out loud sight gags thrown in amongst the fists and feet. One aspect of the action which I felt really stuck out in Seung-wan’s previous effort, The Berlin File, was the understanding of how to convey a sense of impact onscreen. In that movie one scene has Ha Jeong-woo being knocked off his feet, landing awkwardly on a ventilation pipe jutting out from a building roof, and it’s filmed in such a way that you genuinely feel it. The sound design and camera angle is just perfect. Seung-wan and Doo-hong have successfully carried over that technique to Veteran, with some truly wince worthy blows and falls thrown into the mix.
Veteran also delivers a stellar cast, with plenty of familiar faces from Seung-wan’s previous movies turning up in various roles. Yoo Hae-jin, who starred alongside Jeong-min in The Unjust, here delivers a repulsive turn as Ah-in’s faithful assistant. Oh Dal-soo, a performer who could well be Korea’s busiest actor working today, turns up as Jeong-min’s closest team member, here hot off the heels from significant roles in both Assassination and opposite Jeong-min in Ode to my Father. Dal-soo also notably had a role in Seung-wan’s 2004 boxing drama Crying Fist.
Ah-in himself could be considered the newcomer of the bunch, and Veteran is by far the biggest production he’s worked on to date. At times his performance threatens to push his villainous upstart into territory which could be considered over the top, however he successfully manages to reel it in just as it’s teetering on the brink each time. His portrayal creates a character that’s easy to hate, which exactly fits the job description of his role, so no complaints.
Notably missing in action is the director’s brother, Ryoo Seung-beom, who usually turns up in some form or another in Seung-wan’s movies, marking the first time he hasn’t appeared since 2006’s City of Violence. Thankfully the movie doesn’t suffer from his absence, and despite a slight lag after a blistering opening third, things are brought back with a bang for the finale, that sees a car chase through the streets of Seoul which is refreshingly CGI free. Seung-wan has stated that a stuntman suffered an almost fatal injury on the set of Veteran, and while he didn’t go into the specifics of which stunt it happened on, watching a couple of impacts during said sequence, it’s probably a safe guess that it was during this scene.
After a container yard throwdown, a frenzied knife fight in a small apartment, a rooftop chase sequence, and a car park beatdown, Jeong-min breaks his fists out one more time to take on Ah-in, in a wonderfully messy knock down drag out street brawl that doesn’t disappoint. It even throws in a hilarious cameo from Ma Dong-seok just for good measure
Seung-wan has openly stated his love for the Lethal Weapon series, and approached Veteran with the series in mind. Stating in a recent interview how he particularly admired the way the cast, director, and production staff remained the same for each movie, the director has confirmed that there’ll be two sequels to Veteran. While we won’t be seeing the next installment for at least a couple of years, if it’s anything like the first one, you can count me in.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10