A onetime killer hits the road to self-redemption by tracking down his brother's killer in "Soo."

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.


South Korea

  • Production: A Cinema Service release and presentation, in association with CJ Entertainment, of a Triz Club production. (International sales: CJ, Seoul.) Produced by Hwang In-tae, Shin Beom-su. Executive producer, Kim In-su. Co-executive producer, Kim Ju-seong. Directed by Choi Yang-il (aka Yoichi Sai). Screenplay, Lee Seung-hwan, Lee Jun-il, Choi; adaptation, ZiZok [cq].
  • Crew: Camera (color), Kim Seong-bok; editor, Lee Eun-su; music, Lee Byeong-woo; art directors, Jo Hwa-seong, Choi Hyeon-seok; costumes, Kim Yu-seon; sound (Dolby Digital), Gang Ju-seok; martial arts director, Shin Jae-myeong. Reviewed on DVD, Beijing, Sept. 30, 2007. (In Pusan Intl. Film Festival -- Korean Cinema Today.) Running time: 122 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Ji Jin-heui, Gang Seong-yeon, Mun Seong-geun, Lee Gi-yeong, Jo Gyeong-hwan, Oh Man-seok.