Park Hoon-jung, a South Korean filmmaker, has – thanks to his distinctive and thoughtful writing style – attracted a vast number of international and domestic viewers to Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil and Ryoo Seung-wan’s The Unjust. His directing skills then allowed him to make New World, an intriguing film and one of the most gripping Korean gangster productions of 2013. With that success in mind, Park Hoon-jung went on to direct The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale in 2015. And now, two years later, he wrote and directed V.I.P., a crime thriller that depicts the story of Kim Kwang-Il, a psychopath who gets embroiled in political games between the USA, North and South Korea.
When North Korea gets swamped with unexplained murders, there is one particular suspect in mind: Kim Gwang-il (Lee Jong-suk), a son of a key political figure. The young man is investigated by Ri Dae-bum (Park Hee-soon), a police officer who then gets expeditiously demoted by his supervisor for looking into Kim’s involvement in committing the homicides. While Ri is removed from the service, the suspect defects to South Korea, where he carries on with his iniquitous crimes. Although Gwang-il feels untouchable, he eventually gets cornered by Chae Yi-do (Kim Myung-min), a stubborn and hotheaded police superintendent from Seoul. The case becomes more complex as a foreign agency, led by Paul Gray (Peter Stormare), decides to get involved, to ‘rescue’ the lunatic – in return for some significant inside information. Concurrently, Ri clandestinely leaves North Korea to track Kim Gwang-il and to finally bring him to justice. Now with three different government agencies on the chase, everyone tries to get the murderer for themselves, and the game of ‘catch me if you can’ ensues.
V.I.P is a star-studded thriller, but with a poorly chosen narrative. Director’s mediocre imagination towards the cruel treatment of women turned the film into a prosaic and occasionally sickening narrative. Park Hoon-jung’s story is abundant with standardized characters, such as Chae Yi-do, whose tough and merciless persona is similar to that of Seo Do-cheol from Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran. Having said that, Kim Myung-min’s acting itself did contribute to V.I.P, and the same goes for Park Hee-soon’s portrayal of Ri Dae-bum; both were convincing and natural in their roles, but with some dodgy acting from Peter Stormare, you only wished for the film to end. Lee Jong-suk … Portraying a self-confident serial killer must have been a challenging role for the 28-year-old actor. Characterization of a psychopath takes a lot of effort from an actor, especially in terms of emotional connection; was Lee Jong-suk really up to the task? He might have created one of the most distinctive characters in his career to date, but occasional uncontrolled body movements and facial expressions aroused more frustration than admiration for Lee’s acting skills.
With some superficial political issues included in the film, and a total lack of Lee Jong-suk’s character’s development, Park Hoon-jung’s new work is simply an unexciting production. V.I.P is one of those films one would rather skip and take a walk in the park instead.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Warner Bros.