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 "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 "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 "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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)