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[Herald Review] ‘Violent Prosecutor’ both grimacing and comedic

 A prosecutor overly reliant on using his fists in the name of justice and a corrupt politician looking to take advantage of that hot temperament -- the underlying premise of director Lee Il-hyeong’s newest flick, “A Violent Prosecutor,” may appear grim on the surface, but do not be fooled. The prison comedy doles out its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments.

The film stars the contrasting combo of the stoic-faced Hwang Jung-min as Seoul district prosecutor Byun Jae-uk and Gang Dong-won as the sly, young con artist Han Chi-won.

Scene “A Violent Prosecutor,” starring Hwang Jung-min (left) and Gang Dong-won. (Showbox)
Scene “A Violent Prosecutor,” starring Hwang Jung-min (left) and Gang Dong-won. (Showbox)

Byun is known to his friends and colleagues as a no-nonsense prosecutor, but he has an Achilles heel -- he resorts to violence to intimidate and nail criminal suspects. In order to cover up his secret life as a crime boss, political candidate Woo Jong-gil, who is played by Lee Sung-min, takes advantage of Byun‘s violent reputation and frames him for murder.

Sentenced to 15 years in jail, Byun’s introduction to prison life is anything but pleasant. Reminiscent of the storyline of American movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” Byun uses his knowledge of the law to make good with the guards, which in turn earns him respect in the prison yard.

Five years go by and he is still desperately looking to overturn his wrongful conviction. He then meets Han -- an oddly likeable con man whose lies run so deep that even he has trouble keeping his stories straight. The two men form an unlikely friendship and forge an alliance to prove Byun’s innocence. 

“While the friendship between two people coming together to get themselves out of a jam is not an unusual movie plot, I wanted to emphasize that fact that Jae-uk is in prison and Chi-won is on the outside, making it difficult for them to meet,” said director Lee during a press conference at Coex Megabox theater on Monday. 

Actors Gang Dong-won (left) and Hwang Jung-min speak at a press conference for their new movie “A Violent Prosecutor” at the Coex Megabox theater in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)
Actors Gang Dong-won (left) and Hwang Jung-min speak at a press conference for their new movie “A Violent Prosecutor” at the Coex Megabox theater in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)

“Even though the two characters were unable to meet in person, they formed a unique bond, and it’s this bond that I really wanted to focus on,” said Lee, who also added that he has been racked with nerves as this movie marks his debut as lead director.

Despite Lee’s goal to portray a special personal relationship between the two main characters, in the end it’s Hwang’s solo portrayal of a regretful, yet revenge-fueled, prosecutor that comes away as the most memorable feature of the film.

“I started filming this movie after ‘The Himalayas,’ so actually I found the role to be a lot more comfortable physically since there was not a lot of moving around involved,” said Hwang. “But definitely the most difficult aspect of playing the role of a prosecutor was learning all the legal jargon. I approached this role the way I would approach a play, memorizing all the lines and trying to pronounce everything as naturally as I could.“

Scene “A Violent Prosecutor.” (Showbox)
Scene “A Violent Prosecutor.” (Showbox)

Gang’s laid-back pretty-boy persona ably counteracts Hwang’s veteran, method-style of acting. However, he was no doubt used more as eye candy in the film, as well as for comedic relief. Nevertheless, the actor‘s presence was still a key factor in keeping the film lighthearted.

Although Gang adequately portrayed a sleazy con artist -- one who creates fake personas to sleep with women and to scam his way out of sticky situations, his character lacked depth and the audience is left doubting whether his actions to help free the prosecutor were out of dedicated friendship or his own selfish need to prove his conning abilities.


While this new prison buddy flick is a comedy, as the title suggests, there are a number of pretty violent scenes but they don’t quite cross the line of being unwatchable.

“A Violent Prosecutor” will open in theaters on Feb. 3.

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com
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