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Wild Card

Cop drama "Wild Card" scores with the ace that so many South Korean movies keep up their sleeve: well-written and well-played characters whose ensemble chemistry pays off in the final reels. Precinct movie about a bunch of Seoul detectives determined to find a young killer and his gang is smoothly directed fare with a powerful ending.

With:
With: Jeong Jin-yeong, Yang Dong-geun, Han Chae-yeong, Gi Ju-bong, Kim Myeong-guk, Yu Ha-bok, Yeom Dong-hun, Lee Dong-gu, Seo Jae-gyeong, Kim Gi-sae, Kim Chang-gyu, Lee Do-gyeong, Jo Gyeong-hun, Shin Jeong-geun, Kim Sung-tae, Yang Han-seok.

Though there’s nothing new about its plot or premise, cop drama “Wild Card” scores with the ace that so many South Korean movies keep up their sleeve: well-written and well-played characters whose ensemble chemistry pays off in the final reels. Precinct movie about a bunch of Seoul detectives determined to find a young killer and his gang is smoothly directed fare with a powerful ending. However, pic’s lack of a strong individual profile signals ancillary rather than theatrical action in the West, on the heels of specialized fest exposure. Local biz in May was nothing special.

Pic lacks the broad scope of last year’s crime classic, “Public Enemy,” and is a much grittier work overall. But it’s still driven by personalities rather than action, with leads Jeong Jin-yeong (“Hi! Dharma”) and Yang Dong-geun (“Address Unknown”) making a strong team as driven cops.

A woman is senselessly killed in the subway by a gang of four young punks, led by Kim Min-gi (Seo Jae-gyeong), a psycho with a metal ball and chain. Later, they gang-rape a whore in a public park. Veteran detective Oh Yeong-dal (Jeong) and his younger, more loose-cannon partner, Bang Jae-su (Yang), swear to get those responsible.

After pressuring a queeny club owner (Lee Do-gyeong) for info, and engaging in stakeouts, the cops spot the four perps after they’ve just killed two young women. In a realistic foot chase through the streets and a night market, Kim gets away, but the police are now hot on his tail.

With its simple, straight-arrow plot, the film has plenty of time to focus on the characters, as they work round the clock engaging in routine activities and, in Bang’s case, trying to score points with an attractive young woman, Kang Na-na (Han Chae-yeong), whom he accosts every night after her gym workout. Without slipping into comedy, or letting the atmosphere cool too much, these scenes — always centered on work — develop an easy familiarity with the main characters, enhanced by Jo Sung-woo’s clip-clop score.

It’s not till the 90-minute mark, as the police lay a trap for the killer, that the pic really kicks in emotionally. But it’s worth the wait, with a terrific scene in which Bang questions one of Kim’s gang and gains new respect from his colleagues, plus a violent climax that’s genuinely cathartic.

Scenes with the flouncy nightclub owner are overplayed and could be radically trimmed for Western auds; and Kang’s character is never properly integrated into the movie after the long build-up to her entrance. The meat of the picture is the relationships between the cops themselves, and here both casting and playing are tops down the line.

The older, married Oh comes alive in Jeong’s grizzled portrayal, and he plays off nicely against Yang as the younger live-wire. Veteran Gi Ju-bong is as reliable as ever as the detectives’ grumpy boss, and Kim Myeong-guk is affecting in the later stages as a cop with a problem.

Technical credits are all smooth, with nighttime lensing of Seoul’s streets and bars natural and unforced. Helmer Kim Yu-jin is best known for the love story “A Promise,” 1998’s top-grossing local movie, that was also elevated above its genre by the lead perfs.

Wild Card

South Korea

Production: A Cinema Service release and presentation of a C & Film/Yoojin E & C production, in association with Sobic Venture Capital and Hana Bank. (International sales: Cinema Service, Seoul.) Produced by Jang Yun-hyeon, Kim Yu-jin. Executive producer, Kim. Co-producer, Shin Geun-ho. Directed by Kim Yu-jin. Screenplay, Lee Man-heui, Shin Geun-ho.

Crew: Camera (color), Byun Heui-sung; editor, Kim Hyeon; music, Jo Sung-woo; art directors, Yun Gi-chan, Lee Min-bok; costumes, Kim Shi-jin; sound (Dolby Digital), Oh Sae-jin, Kim Chang-seob. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 19, 2003. Running time: 112 MIN.

With: With: Jeong Jin-yeong, Yang Dong-geun, Han Chae-yeong, Gi Ju-bong, Kim Myeong-guk, Yu Ha-bok, Yeom Dong-hun, Lee Dong-gu, Seo Jae-gyeong, Kim Gi-sae, Kim Chang-gyu, Lee Do-gyeong, Jo Gyeong-hun, Shin Jeong-geun, Kim Sung-tae, Yang Han-seok.

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