Film review: action keeps The Suspect on the straight and narrow

Yvonne Teh

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 11:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 11:10pm

Starring: Gong Yoo, Park Hee-soon, Yoo Da-in
Director: Won Shin-yun
Category: IIB (Korean)
Rating: 3.5/5


With a running time of 137 minutes, Wong Shin-yun's The Suspect is considerably lengthier than the average action-thriller. Not coincidentally, it also has a far more complex plot than can be expected of a film whose powerfully built protagonist is more likely to spring into action than sit back and chat.

In the not-so-distant past, Ji Dong-chul (the impressive Gong Yoo in his first action role) was North Korea's best special ops field agent and a happily married father-to-be. But when Kim Jong-un came to power, his government decided that the top operative was better off dead than alive. Ji was left with little choice but to join the 20,000 or so of his countrymen who have defected to date.

Ji now leads a low-key life for the most part. But after the pro-North Korean corporation head (Song Jae-ho) who employed Ji as his driver is murdered, the defector becomes the prime suspect. Super "spy sniffer" Colonel Min (Park Hee-soon) is tasked with tracking the trained killer down. The South Korean military man soon realises that there's much more to the case than initially meets the eye.

Among other things, the man he's pursuing has more on his mind than trying to prove his innocence. Also, it's not just a straight North versus South affair. Instead, monetary greed and personal revenge are also fuelling different people's violent actions.

Screenwriter Lim Sang-yoon's story does not lack twists, turns or sub-plots. It also has some interesting supporting characters, including Colonel Min's amusing, gum-chewing assistant, Captain Jo (Jo Jae-yun) and Choi Kyeong-hee (Yoo Da-in) as a documentary filmmaker whose research on North Korean defectors leads the good guys to make a number of key revelations.

Still, there's no denying that The Suspect's standout elements are its action scenes. Well choreographed and enacted, they benefit from being staged in a variety of locations, including Hong Kong and Puerto Rico. The North Korean special ops training scenes are suspenseful and rugged.

The many car chases are made particularly exciting by cinematographer Lee Chang-hwan employing an innovative variety of camera angles, including filming from inside an old woman's house as well as some dizzying bird's-eye views.

But the film's most attention-grabbing action is a fight that breaks out in a shopping mall during a chase. Another North Korean defector, who has obviously been trained in unarmed combat, faces off against Ji. This fighter is played by action choreographer Kim Won-jin, who caught the eye of Hong Kong film fans back in 1992 with his appearance in Operation Scorpio. Kim shows that he still has some amazing moves more than 20 years later.


The Suspect opens on March 6