Despite a fairly confrontational title, A Violent Prosecutor takes a surprisingly entertaining turn in what becomes a mixture between some of the best hustle films out there and The Shawshank Redemption. It’s an odd mix, but in true Korean style the debut of Lee Il Hyeong bristles with style, wit, and twists, to provide an accessible crime caper after the crime itself.
Opening credits may not always be worth mentioning, but here they are a quick cut presentation of torn paper and character introductions that for some reason spoil a lot of the first act. It seems as though these were made to go after the prologue, but the prologue wound on for far longer than anyone expected. This results in a disappointingly spoiled opening act as we are told characters, and what has happened to them in the same way as a ‘Previously on…’ episode recap.
Hwang Jung Min plays the titular violent prosecutor Byun Jae Wook. A man who isn’t above handing out beatings where necessary in order to ensure convictions. Unfortunately his violent and well known tactics make him the perfect patsy for a development conspiracy where a gang have been hired to disrupt a protest at a bird sanctuary disguised as protestors. When one is taken into custody, Jae Wook interrogates him, only for him to be found dead the next morning. Taking the fall for the man’s murder, Jae Wook is convinced by duplicitous Assistant Prosecutor Jong Gil (Lee Sung Min) into pleading guilty, only to be given 15 years. In prison, Jae Wook makes friends with inmates and staff due to his knowledge of the law. 5 years pass before Jae Wook encounters Chi Won (Gang Dong Won). A small time con-artist with connections to the protest that lead to Jae Wook’s downfall. Once Jae Wook’s advice sets Chi Won free, Chi Won sets about returning the favour by investigating Jae Wook’s case.
The convoluted plot is a lot of fun to see unravel. It takes its time getting to the meat of the story, so it’s a surprise when Chi Won becomes the protagonist. Hwang takes more of a supporting role, allowing for the charismatic Gang to shine as the true star. His manipulations are a joy to behold, constantly one-upping the sinister powers in charge, while also reminding us of the cons he has done and the people whose lives he has affected.
As a redemption tale, it may pass over the faults of its characters too quickly, but Jae Wook’s five year stretch means that Hwang is allowed to jump into some juicy material as he comes close to breaking. The tight pacing is meant to entertain, while still delivering some social commentary. The editing is slick and quick, while the music adds to jovial montages.
Strong performances and a fun tone aside, those opening credits do confusingly tell too much before showing it, and more could have been done to show Jae Wook’s struggles as Chi Won fights for justice on the outside. Many Korean films before have merged darker aspects with comedy and entertainment, whereas A Violent Prosecutor divides itself into genre specific scenes. Certainly enjoyable, and a deceptively short two hours, A Violent Prosecutor is a strong debut, but one that needs more balance.
A Violent Prosecutor screens as part of this 2016’s Fantasia International Film Festival programme.
Find all our of Fantasia 2016 coverage here.