First-time Korean helmer Kwon Hyeok-jae provides top thrills with a compatible comic underpinning in frenetic fugitive actioner "Troubleshooter."

First-time Korean helmer Kwon Hyeok-jae provides top thrills with a compatible comic underpinning in the frenetic fugitive actioner “Troubleshooter.” After collaborating with “The Unjust” director Ryoo Seung-wan on the script of Ryoo’s spy spoof “Dachimawa Lee,” the pair ensure their light touch is still felt in this deft, not-too-dark contribution to the wrong-man-on-the-run genre, aided by lead thesp Sol Kyung-gu (“Peppermint Candy,” “Haeundae”), who makes a sympathetic Everyman. Pic opened to disappointing but respectable local biz last September, cuming $12 million, but may travel to genre fests and niche ancillary internationally.

Widowed ex-cop Kang Tae-shik (Sol) lives hand-to-mouth as a low-rent private investigator while trying to give his snarky-mouthed daughter (note-perfect tyke Kim Hyang-gi) a proper education. Kang is called to a no-tell motel to get the goods in a divorce case, but instead of finding in flagrante lovers, he discovers a woman’s corpse and a brief video of the killing showing on TV at the crime scene.

It turns out the murderer, a bald-headed psycho (a chilling Lee Young-hoon), is the same guy who offed Kang’s wife years before, and the stiff is the shrink who testified on the killer’s behalf. On cue, Kang’s cell rings, and a digitally altered voice tells him to obey instructions if he doesn’t want to be framed. Using his entrapper’s advice, Kang dodges police and hits the road, hoping to prove his innocence with the assistance of his network of friends and informants.

The yarn moves at lightning speed, and the scenario increases in complexity as it rolls onward. Further instructions from the unseen blackmailer push Kang to break into a police safehouse to abduct a key witness, lawyer Yoon Dae-hee (Lee Seong-min), who’s about to spill the beans on a political link to a banking corruption scam on the eve of an election. As the dragnet tightens on Kang and his abductee Yoon, it becomes clear that not all of protag’s friends can be trusted.

Whether it’s reaching for laughs or edge-of-the-seat action, the pic’s sheer velocity makes it worth the ride, but the script peaks at least a reel too early. The helmer pads out the rest of the 100-minute running time with an expert car chase through the streets of Seoul and a likewise unnecessary, though entertaining, fight between hero and puppet master before the end credits roll.

Making for agreeable onscreen company, Sol brings welcome humor to his framed man caught in a “what else could go wrong” day. Supporting players are all solid despite the generic nature of their roles. Oh Dal-su charms as smart cop Choi Sang-cheol, who figures out he’s chasing the wrong guy; while Lee Jung-jin is deliberately irritating and sleek as a smug young police officer. Only Park Yeong-seo’s cliched role, as a wheelchair-bound communications geek who aids Kang, fails to ring true.

Direction is mostly solid, but the helmer’s choice of Steadicam for fight scenes doesn’t always work to auds’ advantage. While Korean commercial cinema is generally well mounted, the HD lensing here creates the impression of a casual looseness that sets the film apart from the region’s other crime thrillers. Smart cutting by Steve M. Choe ensures the pic remains taut.

Electronic pulses matched with an emphatic brass section on Bang Jun-suk’s score plays up the humorous tone that sits just beneath the action, without undercutting the pic’s dramatic aims.

Troubleshooter

South Korea

Production

A Fine Cut release of a Next Entertainment World presentation in association with ISU Venture Capital Co., Michigan Venture Capital, Company K Partners, SBS Contents Hub, Daesung Private Equity, Stonebridge Capital of a Filmmaker R&K production, in association with Next Entertainment World. (International sales: Fine Cut, Seoul.) Produced by Kang Hye-jeong, Ryoo Seung-wan, Kim Jeong-min. Executive producers, David Suh. Co-producers, Lee Kang-bok. Co-executive producers, Chae Yoon, Cho Il-hyung, Kim Hak-beom, Gong Young-wha, Kim Young-hoon, Suh Hak-soo, Kim Gee-hun. Directed by Kwon Hyeok-jae. Screenplay, Ryoo Seung-wan, Kwon, Kim Jeong-min.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Jung Suk-won; editor, Steve M. Choe; music, Bang Jun-suk; production designer, Yi Jin-young; costume designer, Kim Na-hyoung; action choreographer, Jung Doo-hong; sound (Dolby SR), Sung Yoon-yong; assistant director, Kim Hong-chun. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, May 1, 2011. (In Udine Far East Film Festival.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Sol Kyung-gu, Lee Jung-jin, Oh Dal-su, Song Sae-byeok, Kim Hyang-gi, Lee Young-hoon, Lee Seong-min, Moon Jung-hee, Park Yeong-seo.

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