its very first seconds, when a rich, trashy couple sashays through a
luxury car dealership to the pounding beat of Blondieís disco thumper,
Heart of Glass, as salesmen fall over themselves to faun and flatter,
one gets the sense that Veteran is going to be a departure from director
Ryoo Seung-wanís previous blockbuster smash, the dark, violent spy
thriller, The Berlin File. The proceeding car chase, harrowing not as
much because of its presumptive high-speed danger, as for the misfits
with badges behind the wheel, lets us know that old Ryoo habits die
Detective Do-cheol gets no respect. His wife harangues him for not
holding up his end of the household duties and his supervising officers
simply pile on the complaints about his hands-on approach to policing.
Sometimes it canít be helped that a little leading might be needed to
bring a perp in for questioning. Surely, the criminal was thinking
about punching Do-cheol in the face, wasnít he? So what if the cop made
his wish come true? Of course the resulting self-inflicted cuts and
bruises are enough to get the crook arrested. So goes the cowboy style
of policing practiced not only by Detective Do-cheol, but by the rest of
the motley crew that is his team. A mix of jaded veterans (hence the
title) and enthusiastic rookies; other squads give a wide berth to
the squad and their reputation follows them like a dark cloud despite
their successes. Still, amongst his teammates and the regular folks he
depends on to help his operations, Do-cheolís a pretty good guy.
his friendship with one of those civilians that kicks off our story. A
truck driver named Bae assists the team in a big operation and Do-cheol
offers the proud, hard-working man his card in gratitude after
successfully wrapping up the bust. Bae will be using that card sooner
than he thinks as he and his fellow truckers are cheated of their
earnings and booted from their jobs for unfair grounds. Attempting
to speak with the owner of the trucking company, Bae is invited into the
office of Tae-oh, the cool, sleek young son of the firmís owner. What
starts off as a simple business negotiation becomes a nightmarish
mockery of the truckerís honourable intentions that finds Bae physically
battling for his life and dignity in front of his grade-school son, all
at the insane whim of the depraved executive.
to answer his phone when Bae called for his assistance, Do-cheol is
shocked to ring back to discover Bae hovering between life and death in
an emergency room, wrapped in bandages from head to toe after what the
cop is told was a suicide attempt. The nonsensical claim springs Do-cheol
into action, triggering an investigation that quickly leads him right to
Tae-ohís door. Of course, being a VIP has its privileges, in Tae-ohís
case that includes having someone on permanent call to shield him from
the harshities of life.
Tae-ohís right-hand man, his cousin, the Vice President Choi, runs
interference for him and official complaints about the police nosing
around come pouring into Do-cheolís stationhouse, which have the effect
of cowing the higher-ups and quashing the investigation Ö theoretically.
Unfortunately for Tae-oh, he is unaware of two important facts: First is
that Do-cheol is apparently part tick and refuses to unstick himself
from the dissipated chaebolís side, no matter how heís threatened.
Second is how Do-cheolís police team supports their guy, even in the
face of extreme consequence and backing him unconditionally no matter
how crazy the strategy.
Really, Tae-oh shouldíve just given Bae his money and called it good.
Rollicking. Thatís the first word I think of when I consider this
film. It starts on all four cylinders and doesnít really let up.
Writer/director Ryoo Seung-wan lets the comedy fly in a way he hasnít
since 2008's Dachimawa Lee. Of course, as itís a Ryoo Seung-wan
picture, there will be action, and itís pretty great. With high-octane
car races through the streets of Seoul (totally
without CGI, Ryoo told me) and a hilarious foot chase
between the cops and some Russian thugs on the docks of Busan, the
action doesnít have the life or death intensity of The Berlin File, but
is still hugely enjoyable, which was kind of the point.
amazing cast, headed by Hwang Jung-min as Do-cheol, seems more like
theyíre at summer camp than working hard on a film. Thatís the comfort
level that permeates the celluloid. Regardless of their easiness on
screen together, thereís not a false step or sloppy note anywhere. Yoo
Ah-in plays the debauched young chaebol, Tae-oh, with alternating
baby-faced charm and demonic corruption. When Tae-oh has one of his
cold-blooded, sadistic fits, or renders twisted punishments even unto
his own people - often for no reason other than he can - the audience
holds its breath until the deed is done. Itís a very different role for
the homey, sweet-faced, Yoo, whoís more known for playing downcast,
bullied kids, or faithful, good-hearted sons, and he runs with it,
chewing up just enough of the scenery without being campy (and there
are some OTT moments of rich-boy-gone-amok ugliness) and holds his
own admirably opposite the veteran stars.
Hae-jin as the long-suffering VP of the company has no choice but to
continuously clean up his superiorís messes with little to no regard of
the fact that they are cousins. If anything, that blood relation is
used against him as he is little more than a literal whipping boy for
golden child, Tae-oh, even to the point of being persuaded to do years
of jail time in his place. In a way-too-small role as Do-cheolís
beleaguered wife, Jin Kyung crackles with affronted pride and sass as an
attempt by Choi to bribe the lady into dissuading her man away from
Tae-ohís trail takes a very unexpected turn. Hwang reunites with his
BFF from Ode to My Father, the excellent Oh Dal-su, who plays Do-cheolís
chief, together with Cheon Ho-jin, as their put-upon superintendent.
The scene where the men compare bodily wounds as a way of determining
whoís sacrificed most to the police force is a hoot. Quien es mas
course, no discussion of Veteran would be complete without some mention
of that breakout character known as Miss Bong. During my interview with
Ryoo Seung-wan, he spoke of wanting to turn Veteran into a series like
the Lethal Weapon films (which
he said this movie is inspired by), I demanded he set an
entire chapter around the sole female in Do-cheolís team. Whether itís
by way of her feisty charms (watch her mesmerise the rookie), or
her powerful kicks, this one-lady hurricane of justice blows through the
movie and leaves a trail of stunned menfolk in her wake. Jang Yoon-juís
charisma as the mighty but feminine officer is one the filmís many
Director Ryoo told me he had no intention of putting social messages
into his films; itís pretty obvious that Veteran is a morality play of
the poor-but-honest working class against the dissipation and arrogance
of the ďuntouchableĒ rich. The degeneracies are drawn in pretty broad
strokes, but sometimes one just wants an uncomplicated hero to cheer
for, and an easily understood, moustache-twirling villain to hiss at.
That, along with Veteranís exceptional cast, a tight, sharp script with
perfect rhythm, rip-roaring comedy, and of course, the exciting action
weíve come to expect from director Ryoo Seung-wan, makes Veteran an
excellent time at the movies.
Lady Miz Diva
Click here for our interview with
Veteran director Ryoo Seung-wan
from September 2015.
Click here for more Veteran interview goodness
with Director Ryoo
from the New York Korean Film Festival in November, 2015.
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