Director and stars alike put their best fist forward in Veteran, the most rollicking and ass-kicking Korean film to appear in many a moon. Cop meets bad guy, finds out he’s up to no good and single-mindedly pursues him until one or the other must fall. That’s the gist of Ryoo Seung-wan’s latest action-thriller, an unpretentious and irresistible cocktail of brawls and bravado.
Lending his wily charisma to the stentorian “veteran” detective of the title, Hwang Jung-min brings to bear the full brunt of his rangy physicality to his second project with Ryoo, following 2010’s dynamic corruption thriller The Unjust. Meanwhile, Yoo Ah-in bends his lips with a malevolent sneer for his apathetic corporate heir while Oh Dal-su nails his many comic beats with his permanently vexed police captain.
Tapping into a very local style of humor (though one that shouldn’t be lost in translation for foreign viewers), Veteran is punctuated by casual violence and foul language—but the exasperation that leads to the comedy is also rooted in an inability to deal with a broken system of corruption and social hierarchy, which lends a sharp bite to the gags.
While the film’s scale may not be on par with other local or foreign offerings this season, Jung Doo-hong’s resourceful and assertive action choreography, framed within a loose and lucid mise-en-scène, lands on the mark every time and then some. Mainstream Korean films haven’t been this fun in years, so let’s hope Veteran knocks out the competition and paves the way for others like it.