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[Herald Review] Swaggering ‘Veteran’ pulls no punches

Director Ryoo Seung-wan goes back to basics with refreshing martial arts-style action

After being bombarded this year with back-to-back Hollywood blockbuster movies filled with exploding cars, collapsing buildings, and cities turned upside down, it seemed that bigger, louder and hotter was the only recipe for the success of action flicks.

In “Veteran,” director Ryoo Seung-wan brings in an all-star cast led by Hwang Jung-min and Yoo Ah-in to flip that assumption on its head.

The reunion of Ryoo with stunt coordinator Jung Doo-hong (the pairing seen in Ryoo‘s “The Unjust” and “The Berlin File”) does not disappoint. The car chase at the movie’s climax, shot in the middle of Myeong-dong, is well-deserving of the praise it is receiving. But it‘s the on-foot chases and hand-to-hand fight scenes dotted throughout the movie that sets “Veteran” apart.

A scene from
A scene from "Veteran" (CJ Entertainment)

At the center of action is the choleric detective Seo Do-cheol (Hwang Jung-min), who has a good heart but lacks self-restraint when it comes to beating up perpetrators. When an acquaintance truck driver falls into a coma after a visit to Jo Tae-oh (Yoo Ah-in), the heir to an almighty conglomerate called Sinjin Corp., Do-cheol smells a rat and begins an investigation on Tae-oh that is blocked at every turn with bribes and trickery.

“I wanted an underdog hero,” said Ryoo at a news conference at CGV Wangsimni. “Not a movie-star hero, but someone like the troublemaking uncle in the family. He’s kind of hard to put up with as family, but he’s a great friend.”

This typical David and Goliath, good vs. evil setup manages to stay entertaining through its two-hour running time thanks to the way the two sides are portrayed. Do-cheol and Tae-oh are archetypal but the supporting roles played by scene stealers Oh Dal-su and Yoo Hae-jin are complex and hilarious, showing that not everything is black or white.

Yoo Ah-in as Jo Tae-oh in
Yoo Ah-in as Jo Tae-oh in "Veteran" (CJ Entertainment)

Simplicity notwithstanding, Yoo Ah-in gives what is arguably one of his best performances to date as Jo Tae-oh. 

He was given a tall order, because his character was meant to encompass all the social evils the movie sets out to criticize. “Jo Tae-oh is a monster, but he as an individual is not important,” said Ryoo. “What’s important is the social system that created him, protected him until he became that way.”

Tae-oh is cold-hearted, selfish, and violent, with no respect for human dignity, and Yoo brings out those qualities for full display in every vicious drug-addled smile. The light banter that is prevalent throughout the film goes taut and tense whenever Tae-oh turns up his maliciousness to stare down Hwang Jung-min’s Do-cheol.

Hwang Jung-min and Yoo Ah-in in
Hwang Jung-min and Yoo Ah-in in "Veteran" (CJ Entertainment)

Funny, smart, and never too serious for comfort, “Veteran” is refreshingly cathartic both in dialogue and action, with every jab, kick, and slap of the handcuffs landing with a satisfying visual and auditory effect. The box office is heating up with “Assassination” soon to be chased by Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation,” but “Veteran” should put up a good fight. “Veteran” opens in local theaters on Aug. 5.

By Won Ho-jung (
Korea Herald Youtube