Debuting Korean writer/director Hong-jin Na shows preternatural action chops in this well-received thriller, but can’t pull off the story’s wild swings in tone. Basically a police procedural with a twist, the detective is an ex-cop, now running a small call-girl operation. (Legal in Korea?) Recently, his ‘girls’ keep running out on him; possibly lured by recruiters to work for bigger outfits. Using one of his regulars to bait a trap, the former detective uncovers something far darker than he could have imagined. And with his old police buds in crisis mode & otherwise engaged, he’s got to call upon old instincts to nab a psycho serial killer. Eventually, the real police do come into the picture, but wind up looking like the Korean Keystone Kops, inept & weirdly blasé, even after finding out the scope of the crimes. (Hong-jin Na making a beginner's mistake in having their actions dictated by, rather than running, the plot mechanics.) Lots of good work in here though, especially in the performances which help you get by some needless narrative confusion, questionable story construction and off-putting slips in tone.
DOUBLE-BILL: Hong-jin Na has two more films out (not seen here), THE YELLOW SEA/’10 and THE WAILING/’16. Meanwhile, for a superior Korean serial killer investigation, don’t miss Joon-ho Bong’s superb MEMORIES OF MURDER/’03.