Ryoo Seung-wan’s “The Unjust” came in at number seven among the top grossing Korean films of 2010, with a worthy 2,751,185 admissions. Its intricate plot and morally unchecked urban reality is infested with manipulative power players in a contemporary crime thriller where justice is ironically served and forcefully consumed.
Ryoo Seung-wan frames Korea’s capital as a sickly corrupt urban jungle, notably void of any ethical foundation or political transparency. Political corruption plagues every juncture as power players run circles around each other attempting to serve their own ends, all the while manipulating public discourse through persuasive misinformation. It's a dark place ruled by a corrupt and puppeteered police force, self-serving public officials, and cutthroat businessmen.
What gets the ball rolling is the high profile case of a serial killer who rapes and dismembers young school girls. Pressed for results by the president and needing to restore public faith in the police force, Captain Choi Cheol-gi (Hwang Jung-min, “Shiri”, “A Bittersweet Life”, ”Blades of Blood”) is tasked in setting up a scapegoat for public digestion. Choi targets a man with a similar criminal record and uses the gangster/property tycoon Jang Seok-gu (Yoo Hae-jin, “Attack the Gas Station!” and the recent hit “Moss”) to press him into becoming their fall guy.
In turn, Choi gets caught up in Jang’s property-bidding war with a corporate rival. This inadvertently introduces Joo Yang (colourfully played by Ryoo Seung-beom from “The Servant”), an equally corrupt and prominent public prosecutor. Joo is quietly assisting Jang’s rival in acquiring the property in question and becomes fixated on Choi and his case when his questionable involvement in the bidding war threatens to surface.
Ryoo Seung-wan mentioned the film’s theme was linked to a number of recent government scandals of corruption and dishonesty. His cynicism is clearly felt as the film's nihilism renders morality as existing outside public positions of power. The sense of justice in the film is unevenly dispensed and tailored to individuals rather than objectively serving as recourse for public organisational infringements. Fitting then is the film's comments on deep-rooted moral decay depicted in trusted public servants.
“The Unjust” spins a web of corruption with amoral gatekeepers and individuals that are either willing victims of this world or active drivers of it. The acting in the film is excellent and some of the big names really bring their top performances to screen. Ryoo Seung-beom’s character is explosive and well seated within the film. Yoo Hae-jin’s performance is sharp as he plays the borderline manic and destructive property tycoon. With a plot involving so many key figures, it is important that each stand up and get counted.
The storytelling is charged and thematically orientated, helped greatly by Park Hoon-jeong-I’s (scriptwriter for “I Saw the Devil”) fluid and kinetic screenplay. The film does suffer from some pacing issues in the last 20-30 minutes but it is not enough to deter from its overall powerful impact and lasting impression.
-Christopher J. Wheeler
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