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[Herald Review] Based on true story, 3 boys find justice 16 years delayed in 'The Boys'

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Oct. 25, 2023 - 15:01

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"The Boys" (CJENM)

In 1999, a small supermarket in the rural town of Samrye in Wanju, North Jeolla Province, was robbed by three assailants. Three young men aged 19 to 20 were apprehended and wrongfully convicted of robbery and murder after forced confessions.

Instantly noticing that something had gone wrong after receiving information on the real culprits, Joon-cheol (Sol Kyung-gu), a veteran detective, throws himself into reinvestigating the case. But his efforts are interrupted by Woo-sung (Yoo Jun-sang), the detective who originally handled the case.

The 124-minute film quickly goes back and forth between 1999 when the incident took place, 2000 when Joon-cheol reinvestigates the case and 2016, when witnesses and the wrongfully convicted, now released from prison, ask Joon-cheol, who has the investigation records, to appear as a witness at a retrial.

Auteur Chung Ji-young's new crime film "The Boys" deals with another high-profile real-life case, following “Unbowed” (2011) and “Black Money” (2019), which dealt with the true stories of a professor who went against the corrupt Korean judicial system in 2007 and the 2012 sale of the Korea Exchange Bank to US equity firm Lone Star Funds, respectively.

While the conclusion and the plot of the film are familiar enough, what pulls the audience to the movie are the actors.

Impressive acting performances come not only from Sol portraying the detective -- quite a while since 2002's "Public Enemy" -- but also "The Glory" and "Mask Girl" star Yeom Hye-ran as his supportive wife and the actors who play the three boys in 2016. Kim Dong-young, one of the three, expresses detailed inner feelings through facial expressions and his eyes, displaying the enormous weight of years of social bias. His lines are powerful.

"The Boys" (CJENM)

Yoo Jun-sang and Heo Seong-tae, however, stick out like a sore thumb. Yoo, also an accomplished musical actor, appears to still think he is in a musical; the tone of his voice and vocalization make it difficult for the audience to stay immersed in the film whenever he appears. His angry, merciless character is exaggerated -- something better suited to the stage than the silver screen.

Heo Sung-tae, known for playing the gangster in "Squid Game," which he said he shot at the same time as this project, seems to be wearing ill-fitting clothes. His acting is both unnatural and unconvincing as a supporting character.

Yet, the film's conclusion and theme are impressive and resonate deeply with the audience. While no one is punished for the wrongful conviction of those three young men and the real perpetrators of the crime leave the scene quietly, without apologizing or offering excuses, the wrongfully convicted boys finally win back some measure of their dignity.

"Justice triumphs" is what the film wants to tell the world.

"The Boys" opens in local theaters on Nov. 1.