Korean Film Festival 2016 Film Review: Veteran (South Korea, 2015)

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How far do you think your money will take you?” If money means action and thrills in cop film Veteran (베테랑), probably not far enough.

Featuring many of the tropes common to the crime comedy genre so beloved by South Korea, Veteran is not cleverly crafted and falls a little flat, despite its chaotic promise.

Directed by Ryu Seung-wan, Veteran is the tale of rather dopey police officer Detective Seo Do-cheol (Hwang Jung-min). More inclined to literally combat crime than to perhaps explore more legal avenues of interrogation, Do-cheol bumbles his way through small fry cases with his tight-knit team. However, when he meets the unpredictable and drug-addled millionaire Cho Tae-oh (Yoo Ah-in) at a party, he quickly suspects that the young heir is up to no good. His suspicions are soon compounded when he investigates the so-called suicide attempted by a truck driver following a pay dispute with Tae-oh’s family company, the all-power conglomerate, Sin Jin Group.

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Veteran offers an oblique critique of the rigid hierarchies that borderline cripple societal interactions, a practice that is endemic to South Korea and East Asia in general. He also draws attention to the multinational giants that seem to control everything from healthcare to motor vehicles, through the omniscience of the fictional company Sin Jin. It’s an ominous message, and even if dramatized, enough to make you feel at least a little uncomfortable once you leave the cinema – the rich do as they please, and there’s nothing the lowly masses can do about it.

Not one to dampen the mood, Veteran tempers its underlying themes with the copious use of slapstick comedy, as shown through the oddly lovable Do-cheol, his colleagues and hopeless minor criminals. The film shows comedic promise early on, and the banter drew plenty of laughs from the audience, myself included. Although the humour in the script is not always necessarily spawned from wit, particular kudos must be given to Jin Kyung in her brief performance as Joo-yeon, Do-cheol’s smart-talking wife.

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Despite the fun, Veteran seems to lack intelligence as a film, and the plot and characters remain brash and basic. Although emerging talent Yoo Ah-in rose to the challenge in his pretty boy turned very bad role as villain Tae-oh, his character felt one-dimensional and not particularly formidable, and did not give him a chance to show his full potential. The fight scenes did not feature any memorable cinematography or choreography, despite a large-scale climax in which more than 100 extras were used.  And perhaps what was most baffling was the film’s utter lack of suspense – the predictability and lack of thrills made Veteran less engaging as an action film, and disappointingly, less exciting than what was advertised.

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Although Veteran features a solid cast and a unique opportunity to take a stance, the film is not yet fully-fledged despite its comedic promise, and fails to thrill through its simplistic execution.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Veteran is being shown as part of the Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA). It will be screened in Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth throughout August and September.

For more information and ticketing visit koffia.com.au