How do they keep doing this? I thought I’ve seen the worst in the recent flop “Drug King” in terms of putting together a group of very talented people, throwing in a complete badass of a subject matter and coming up with an utter disappointment despite a sizeable budget.
That is, until I witnessed director Han Jun-hee’s “Hit-and-Run Squad,” which had a promising premise, a top-notch car chase and gifted actors yet completely broke down.
Just like “Drug King,” it is more infuriating because the film teased me with potential, but kept falling flat.
Police lieutenant Eun Shi-yeon -- played by Gong Hyo-jin -- is demoted to a hit-and-run investigation squad after her superiors question her investigative methods regarding race car driver-turned-businessman Jeong Jae-cheol, played by Jo Jung-suk. The team comprises just two members: team leader Woo and Seo Jin-jae, a young officer with a keen sense about cars, who are played by Jeon Hye-jin and Ryu Jun-yeol respectively.
“Hit-and-Run Squad” (Showbox)
Shi-yeon soon learns that Jeong is somehow connected to a hit-and-run case her new team is investigating, but also finds out that the well-connected former driver is a hard man to corner.
I actually enjoyed the build-up. Like many other men, the little boy inside me tends to give extra points to a story about cars, and the characters popping up seemed somewhat cliched but looked interesting all the same. The first act practically flashed “high-speed race showdown coming up!” and I legitimately anticipated what was about to happen.
Ready, set, and no.
I won’t bother talking about anyone other than the three main characters of Eun, Seo and Jeong because they all pretty much fall out of relevance as the story advances. But they all become rubber-stamp characters.
It really pains me to bash Jo Jung-suk because he is a good actor who has had the misfortunate of running into bad scripts recently. He doesn’t start off bad, adding the stammering, unpredictable attitude to what is now a pretty much standard rich asshole character.
But he is essentially a plot device. There is no character development, not really a story or depth as to why he is what he is.
“Hit-and-Run Squad” (Showbox)
This is not necessarily a bad thing. In the Coen brothers’ masterpiece “No Country for Old Men,” Anton Chigurh is supposed to have no backstory because that brilliantly plays into his character and the theme of the movie.
Here? Jeong is just bland.
Seo and Eun, while having a backstory, are just dull and forgettable. Their interaction with Seo’s father -- played by Lee Sung-min -- has some good acting, but is just so unimpressive and bland.
Gong is a good actor who can create some impressive characters, but she is just a by-the-book “good guy.” It is more depressing, because she had the potential to leave a lasting mark in the Korean film industry otherwise dominated by male actors and characters.
And a thick-headed, good-at-heart, misunderstood cop going rogue to do whatever it takes to see that justice prevails. Where have I seen that before?
Oh, just “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon,” Korean film “Veteran” and just about one-third of every action film ever made starring a cop.
For a film that hasn’t even hit the theaters, it feels incredibly familiar. And not in a good way. What could have been something original just keeps fading into blandness, in a parade of pretentious lines and predictable outcomes.
The lack of originality and blandness just makes the characters look pretentious, and the story boring. Just how do you make a story about cops, race car drivers, and street race with super cars this boring?
But that is what happens after the second act. After the “twist” -- which in my opinion, was visible from a mile away -- the film shifts gear and starts building up again. This is exhausting for the audience in a 133-minute film, particularly after having sat through a mini-climax.
The picture does attempt to hit some of the social issues; it just isn’t clear what. Hit-and-run is bad? Nothing here is poignant. The film doesn’t really focus on the pain that such a crime could bring to the victims.
I’ve always felt that Jo, as talented he is, needs good directing to complement his skills. Han just isn’t one of them.
The acting talent is there. Despite having relative small roles, Yum and Jeon both are solid as ever. It’s just that the film is not really about them.
Despite casting women for many of the major roles, the director decides to make it yet another mano-a-mano film between two guys: pointless.
Having said that, there are some good moments in the film. Some of the jokes work, the characters do have some charm and the car race scene is one of the best -- if not the best -- I’ve seen in a Korean film. It’s just not enough to salvage the two hours.
At first it felt like a rip-off of “Veteran.” Then it started to feel like “Fast and Furious” series. And then finally, neither.
Honestly, the film would’ve been better off as a rip-off of either one. Or maybe it should’ve just focused on giving us a kick-ass car chase scene.
The film opens Wednesday.
By Yoon Min-sik