Convention dictates that if a serial killer is on the loose in a movie, his pursuer(s) must be roughly righteous, with any personal flaws being largely unrelated to their motivations for taking up the chase. Perhaps they are trying to rescue a family member from the murderer’s clutches. Perhaps it is their duty as an officer of the law. Perhaps they’re seeking vengeance or redemption.
In The Chaser, a 2008 South Korean film from first time director Na Hong-jin, the initial reason for protagonist Eom Joong-ho’s pursuit of a sociopathic killer is purely business-related. This ex-cop turned pimp is worried that his missing girls are being sold on to other sex peddlers and he wants to find the culprit and deliver some street justice.
Of course things soon evolve away from this warped entrepreneurial dispute into something more substantial when he realises that his product is being prematurely snuffed out rather than purloined for other purposes.
The film is made all the better because Eom Joong-ho is initially presented as an objectionable figure skirting the edges of the underworld. Rather than validating the character with a story arc that sees him develop and appreciate altruistic behaviour, his actions remain selfish or, at best, the result of convenience throughout. Even his pseudo-redemption leaves him hopeless, which adds to the tension and makes it tough to second guess the plot.
The Chaser remains distinct from standard serial killer movies in other ways, managing to include a concurrent story involving police procedural problems and the obsession with courting media favour amongst law makers. Seeing policemen rendered impotent by protocol is not unusual, but watching them modulate their decisions based on public perception is. And in a post-Leveson world, this feels all the more relevant.