A onetime killer hits the road to self-redemption by tracking down his brother’s killer in “Soo,” a coolly told, often brutal yarn that remains strangely involving despite its flaws. High-concept idea — a twin brother takes on his dead cop brother’s identity to solve a crime he’s also been hunted for by the cops — has strong remake potential. Pic itself, which bombed on South Korean release in March, is more ancillary or film week fare.
Veteran Japanese-born Korean helmer Choi Yang-il — better known as Yoichi Sai (“Blood and Bones,” “Quill,” “All Under the Moon”) — returns to his ethnic roots here in a pic that feels utterly South Korean in its criminal manners and psychology. However, it also has a slightly offbeat, lateral approach to its material that recalls the same helmer’s earlier treatment of the police procedural genre, “Marks” (1995).
After an action-packed opening, in which hood-for-hire Tae-su (Ji Jin-heui, from “Perhaps Love”) kidnaps a gangster but accidentally kills a cop in the underground parking-lot chase, pic becomes a tad confusing as it freely cross-cuts between flashbacks to Tae-su’s youth with brother Tae-jin and his current quest for the twin he hasn’t seen in 19 years.
At the moment the two finally meet, Tae-jin (also Ji) is killed by an assassin’s bullet and Tae-su, who discovers Tae-jin was about to be transferred to a police homicide unit, takes on his sibling’s identity. Twist is that the unit’s cops are obsessed with tracking down the notorious Tae-su, whom they blame for their colleague’s recent death, but they don’t realize Tae-su is actually Tae-jin’s twin brother.
Pic becomes clearer around the 40-minute mark, and develops some dramatic wrinkles, as a punk brought in for questioning recognizes Tae-su for who he is and later tries to shoot him in the street, resulting in a well-staged chase on foot. Even worse for Tae-su, Tae-jin’s g.f., Gang Mi-na (Gang Seong-yeon), who’s also a cop, finally rumbles his true identity, but he persuades her to keep it a secret and join in his hunt for Tae-jin’s killer.
Film’s rhythm alternates slower paced scenes with sudden jumps in the narrative, giving the drama an unsettling edge. Script (and Ji’s blank-faced perf) doesn’t go too far into Tae-su’s psychology, apart from him saying he’s seeking “redemption” for his past life by taking out his bro’s killer; and the device of Tae-su engaging in monologues with his dead sibling as he goes about his business is awkward.
However, “Soo” remains watchable through the strength of its supporting perfs — especially offbeat looker Gang (“King and the Clown”) as the conflicted cop — and Choi’s cool direction. Melancholy chamber score by Lee Byeong-woo always plays up atmosphere rather than action.
Tae-su’s final assault on the HQ of the villain, Gu Yang-weon (Mun Seong-geun), finally goes over the top in gore and believability, though not to the same extent as Choi’s Japanese-set gangster movies, “Blood and Bones” and “Marks.”
“Soo” is an alternative English spelling of the “su” in Tae-su’s name, and also means “age” or “longevity” — something neither of the twins, and few of the underworld characters, ever obtain.