The Chaser [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (5th May 2024).
The Film

"The Chaser" <추격자> (2008)

Eom Joong-ho (played by Kim Yoon-seok) is a pimp who is concerned that two women that he employs have gone missing. He notices the last customer that had contact with the two girls was the same person, and when he requests another, he asks his employee Mi-jin (played by Seo Yeong-hye) to service him, and Joong-ho would tail her to find out if he had anything to do with the disappearances. The customer, Jee Young-min (played by Ha Jung-woo) is in fact killing the women, chaining up Mi-jin and bludgeoning her head with a hammer. But with Joong-ho on his tail and the police also getting involved, a chain of events are set loose for the manhunt...

There have been a number of South Korean films that are part of serial killer thriller genre. Director Bong Joon-Ho's 2003 feature "Memories of Murder" was a major hit as it was a manhunt film that was based on the then-unsolved cases of the Hwaseong serial murders, committed between 1986 and 1994. (The killer Lee Choon-jae confessed in 2019, though statute of limitations had expired so he cannot be prosecuted for those crimes directly.) The film sparked interest in the case again, though it also pointed out the inept actions of the South Korean police force not being able to catch the killer, and controversially has said to have influenced actual serial killers. The serial killing in 2003-2004 by Yoo Young-chul and the serial killings in 2004-2006 by Jeong Nam-gyu were said to be inspirations, causing national fear while also gauging interest with numerous films and television shows being made in the crowded genre. This also came at a time for the new wave of South Korean cinema which focused on horror and thrillers that made an impact domestically as well as internationally. Filmmaker Na Hong-jin made his feature directorial/screenwriting debut with "The Chaser" in 2008, which was partly inspired by the Yoo Young-chul, who killed a number of prostitutes in his home with a hammer, mutilating the bodies, and burying them at a nearby mountain.

The story is not told through the eyes of the police in the film for the most part, but through the actions seen by pimp and ex-detective Joong-ho and through the killer Young-min committing the acts. Set in Seoul a few years prior of the early 2000s when flip phones were the only means for cellphones and CCTV cameras were not as plentiful, and around the time that the actual killings took place. It also sets the tone of the police and the government being inept with their investigations and the actual chase being set by someone who is on the lower side of the social status flagpole. In addition there is no mistaking about the killer himself, as he is shown from the start and there is no long reveal to his identity. Joong-ho's character in the prostitution business and the down and dirty deeds he must go through in protecting his women as assets as well as having to confront his sleazy clients that are unruly show that he doesn't beat around the bush or take maybes for answers. He's not particularly a likeable character, as his focus for his women are as financial blocks, and even his treatment for his bumbling assistant Oh-jot (played by Ko Bon-woong) is more on the abusive and degrading side. As for Young-min, he doesn't quite seem to be a brutal killer at first with his quiet behavior. When he chains up and attacks Mi-jin with his hammer, he is not precise or adept, missing his mark and injuring his hand in the process, almost as if it was his first time to do the horrible deed. When the two characters meet it is literally by accident, with Joong-ho driving in the suspected neighborhood and with Young-min stealing a car and trying to escape just ending up in a fender bender. When the pieces are added together that Young-min is the one who was the client Joong-ho was looking for, it leads into the first but not the only chase to capture the killer. While this could have easily been the start of a cat and mouse thriller with the chased always being one step ahead, "The Chaser" does something unusual by catching the killer very quickly by the hands of the police, due to lack of physical evidence. Even though Young-min confesses to killing missing women and states that he buried them, the police are questioning if he's telling the truth or just making up stories for attention, as they have nothing. No bodies, no weapons, and they do not have the address of where he was committing the murders.

While "The Chaser" keeps things interesting with its approach, there are some frustrating moments to be had, and not just with the police. There are many chances the police could have done a better job at their investigation. There is also the catch and release aspect of having Joong-ho and Young-min confront each other in multiple situations where there is no resolve. And in a slight spoiler, having Mi-jin given a glimmer of hope and then killing her is a shocking moment that gives no hope in sympathy for the killer in any way. There are few if any characters to actually like in the film and even when there are a few moments of sympathy, such as Joong-ho helping Mi-jin's young daughter Eun-ji (played by Kim Yoo-jung), things turn back to brutality and horror quite quickly. But director Na has stated that the film is not about giving sympathetic backstories or giving reasons for the actions. There are hints such as religion, impotence, and parental neglect for Young-min's actions though none of them are specifically blamed as there truly is no justification. The same goes for Joong-ho's character as to why he left the police force and what his personal life has been like in the years since. The story is short and simple with a timeframe of events over two days that result in horrific happenings. There is trauma from before the events and there are more following the events, and those are within the audience's heads.

Visually the film is striking, with the appearance of Seoul at night with quiet and dark hillside neighborhoods as well as the neon-lit city streets, as well as the disgusting looking basement where Mi-jin is held captive. Cinematographer Lee Sung-je was able to capture the visuals in a semi-documentary style with occasional handheld moments while also being steady and simple in others for a fair balance between scenes. The music score by Choi Yong-rock and Kim Ju-seok should also be noted as it includes both unsettling ambient cues as well as bombastic rhythm heavy ones in the action sequences. While there may be some flaws with the narrative as things don't get from A to Z in a more logical order, "The Chaser" is a well crafted looking and sounding feature all throughout.

The film was released on February 14th, 2008 in South Korean cinemas which opened at the #2 spot, though it would rank first in the next three weekends. It became the third most popular movie of the year with over five million tickets sold. It received its international premiere a few months later at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17th, 2008 followed by other international film festivals and theatrical releases in the later months of the year. It won numerous South Korean awards, with two at the Baeksang Arts Awards, five out of five at the Chunsa Film Art Awards, two out of two at the Busan Film Critics Awards, four at the Buil Film Awards, five at the Grand Bell Awards, one at the Blue Dragon Film Awards, four at the Korean Film Awards, and more. It received positive notices internationally as well, and Na's follow-up film "The Yellow Sea" (2010) which also starred Kim and Ha in the leads was heavily anticipated and another critical hit. Umbrella Entertainment has now released "The Chaser" on the Blu-ray format in a fine, yet flawed edition here.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. Shot in the Super35 format, "The Chaser" is a dark looking film as most of the feature takes place during night sequences though there are some daytime sequences to be seen. Dark and grimy colors are well reproduced while keeping natural skin tones, and the neon lights of Seoul at night look vibrant with its shimmering colors. The visual style is well kept and presented here in this transfer. There are no issues of damage to be found with a clean and strong transfer with great detail and keeping the original film grain. A very solid transfer.

The film's runtime is 124:55

Audio

Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo

The original 5.1 and optional 2.0 stereo tracks are available in lossless form. There is excellent sound design for the film with the tense overlapping dialogue as well as the brutal effects in certain sequences and having pounding and eerie score cues. Dialogue is centered while the music and effects are well balanced in the surrounds. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and there are no problematic issues to be had with the excellent audio tracks.

There are optional English subtitles for the main feature. They are in a white font, are well timed and easy to read without errors.

Extras

Note about the lack of subtitles on a number of extras:
Umbrella Entertainment has informed us that the disc was mistakenly authored with a number of Korean language extras lacking their English translation subtitle tracks. Unfortunately as the title has been a slow seller, it was decided that issuing replacement discs was too costly, and therefore purchasers who are unsatisfied are entitled to a full refund by contacting Umbrella Entertainment's Customer Service.


(1) Audio commentary with film critic and Pierce Conran and James Marsh (2024)
This new and exclusive commentary has Korean cinema expert Conran and Hong Kong based film critic Marsh together for a very well informed discussion on the film. Talked about are information on the real life "Raincoat Killer" incidents, clues of the film being an early 2000s period piece, the trends of South Korean cinema at the time, information on the actors and filmmakers, their first reaction to the film, and much more. This is a great listen and packed with great information from both participants. Though they state that this Umbrella Entertainment release is the first English friendly release for the film on Blu-ray, this is incorrect as a South Korean Blu-ray release from 2011 had English subtitles included for the feature.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

(2) Audio commentary with director Na Hong-jin and actors Kim yoon-seok and Ha Jung-woo (2008)
This commentary from the original DVD release has the director and the two main stars discussing the film. Unfortunately it is presented without subtitles.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

(3) Audio commentary with director Na Hong-jin, director of photography Lee Seong-je, music director Kim Jun-seok, lighting director Lee Cheol-oh, sync recorder Kim Shin-yong (2008)
This commentary also from the original DVD release has the director again but this time with crew members discussing the technical aspects of the film. Again, this is also without subtitles.
in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Pre-Production" 2008 featurette (12:33)
This vintage featurette which was included with the original DVD release includes interviews from various crew members, behind the scenes footage and clips of the film itself. While it is labeled "pre-production", it does include a lot of material of the production process itself. Unfortunately the featurette is lacking English subtitles.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 / windowboxed 2.35:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Production Note Video" 2008 featurette (22:39)
Here is another vintage featurette from the original DVD release, which includes interviews with the cast and crew plus behind the scenes and film clips of the film like the featurette above. Discussed in this one are about shooting the film at night, the decision on the point of views of the specific characters and not as a police procedural, the color choices, having a documentary feel, the film's reaction in Cannes, and more. While there are subtitles included for this featurette, they are not done well. Some lines of text are too long, with three rows of text on screen at times. There are also moments of text disappearing too quickly. In addition, some of the behind the scenes moments and film clips are not subtitled at all.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 / windowboxed 2.35:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"Scene Story" 2008 featurettes (28:03)
Presented here are a series of vintage DVD era featurettes focusing on the production of specific scenes with interviews with the cast and crew, behind the scenes footage, and clips of the film. Included are the Title Screen, First Meeting/Chase Scene, Mangwon Police Scenes, Mi-jin's House, Man's House, Questioning Room, Neighborhood Mart, and Young-Min's Place. Unfortunately again, the featurette is lacking English subtitles.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 / windowboxed 2.35:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"The Chaser and the One Who Is Chased" 2008 featurette (15:03)
Another featurette from the original DVD, with this one having interviews with Na, Kim, and Hung about the two main characters in depth, with their character actions, the actors' choices in their performances, and more. This one does in fact have optional English subtitles available.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 / windowboxed 2.35:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary by director Na Hong-jin) (7:11)
Presented here are some deleted scenes which were originally available on the DVD releases. First is an extended scene of Joong-ho with his assistant Oh-jot in the car and later with Oh-jot searching the wrong apartments. Next is a short scene of the police questioning the poop-throwing protester. The third is an extended scene of Joong-ho entering Ji Yeong-minís sisterís house. The fourth is a scene of the police digging in the forest for bodies. Lastly there is a scene of the police discovering the body of the murdered corner store owner. These are accompanied by optional commentary by Na who discusses about their deletions but does not go too far in depth. The scenes as well as the commentary include optional English subtitles.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in windowboxed 2.35:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

Promotional Videos (14:36)
Presented here are a series of clips, first with a behind the scenes of the promotional stills, at a press screening with interviews and a stage greeting, plus the original teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, and a TV spot. The behind the scenes clips are in 1.33:1, the teaser and TV spot are in windowboxed 1.78:1, and the trailer is in windowboxed 2.35:1. Unfortunately, these videos also lack English subtitles.
in 1080p 30fps AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1 / windowboxed 1.78:1 / windowboxed 2.35:1, in Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles


The film was originally released in South Korea by Premier Entertainment on DVD and some though not all were ported to international releases. It received its Blu-ray premiere in 2009 by M6 Vidťo in France which ported most of the South Korean DVD extras, though it lacked the technical commentary track. It unfortunately used a 25fps master rather than 24fps and has non-removable forced subtitles for the Korean audio track. It received a proper 24fps 1080p transfer in 2011 by South Korea's Candle Media, which ported all the South Korean DVD extras but added nothing new. The Umbrella Entertainment release from Australia ports all the South Korean DVD/Blu-ray extras and adds a new commentary making it the winner in terms of content, though the lack of subtitle due to an error in quality control is an unfortunate minus. To be noted, Umbrella Entertainment has informed us that it will be made sure that their future Korean language releases in production will include English subtitles for the Korean language extras.

Packaging

The disc is packaged in a standard clear keep case with reversible artwork, the only difference being the Australian MA 15+ rating logos being removed. A limited edition slipcase with new artwork is also available if ordered from the Umbrella Web Shop. Note that the packaging mistakenly states the aspect ratio is in 1.78:1, as it is correctly in the theatrical 2.40:1 aspect ratio and that it states region B only while the disc is in fact region ALL.

There is also a Collector's Edition limited to 500 copies available exclusively from the Umbrella Web Shop, which includes the keep case with the slipcase, a 48 page bound book, a rigid slipbox, 8 replica lobby cards, and an A3 reversible poster.

The book includes a printed interview with Na Hong-jin about the film and its themes. It seems to be from the time of the film's release, though there is no credit of the interviewee or where it was originally published. Next is the lengthy essay "If I Catch You, I'll Kill You: The Chaser, South Korean Serial Killer Cinema and the Crisis of Sovereignty" by professor Se Young (Seth) Kim of Colby College (Maine, United States) from 2021. It's an excellent breakdown of "The Chaser" with information on true crime events that inspired the film and other films dealing with serial killers in South Korea, and the impact the genre has had. There are also film stills and poster art included. The art cards are on rigid cards and include high quality production stills printed. The poster is reversible and has two English language variations of the original theatrical poster art. The poster is folded and housed in the keep case. The keep case with slipcase, art cards, and book fit in the slipbox which has the same design as the slipcase.

Overall

"The Chaser" is a brutal yet sometimes frustrating serial killer film that keep its grip while also battling out some of the logic and having unlikeable characters at the center. It is thoroughly enjoyable but there are some better serial killer films out there. The Umbrella Entertainment release has an excellent amount of extras including a great new commentary, though it is unfortunate about the issue with the English subtitles being mistakenly left off of some of the extras. Other than that, it still comes as a recommended release.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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