Disgraced former detective Joong-ho (Kim) pays off his debts to underworld heavies by working as a rough-and-tumble pimp; to complicate his seedy life further, three of his girls have disappeared. Upon investigation, our exasperated antihero links the missing hookers to a boyish, stone-faced client (Ha)—who happens to be a chisel-wielding serial killer. Joong-ho is also convinced that Mi-jin (Seo)—the single-mother prostitute who’s still bleeding to death in a bathroom dungeon—is alive.
South Korean first-timer Na Hong-jin offers nasty thrills, manic foot chases and some genuinely subversive riffs on the police procedural. It can’t be a whodunit (the villain is revealed and captured early on), and there are no motives beyond the psychopath’s impotence to constitute a whydunit. So is it a wheredunit? Yes...and no. Na keeps pulling the rug out from under us, and his brawny genre exercise doubles nicely as a scream of social anguish, since most of the twisted screwups occur at the hands of bumbling or corrupt cops. Kim’s wrung-out performance makes him sickly sympathetic, but neither the law nor fate grants his character a lick of redemption in the end. It really is hard out here for a pimp.—Aaron Hillis
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