A well-structured script (by “Missing’s” Kim Yeong-ok) and meaty characters make prison drama “The Executioner” a cut above the norm for the genre. Avoiding unnecessary brutality, and concentrating more on characterization — both among prisoners and staff, the latter confronted with their first execution in 12 years — the film is a tough marketing proposition but plays less grimly than expected. Director Choi Jin-ho’s first feature is solid festival material, with some Euro cable potential in its (unpreachy) look at the pros and cons of the death penalty. Pic goes out locally Nov. 5.
Rookie guard Oh Jae-gyeong (former boy-bander Yun Gye-sang) is instructed by hard-nosed vet Bae Jong-ho (Jo Jae-hyeon, excellent) not to become emotionally involved with the prison “trash.” However, Bae himself has some emotional issues to deal with — a humorous sequence of Oh helping him on a blind date lightens the atmosphere — and when the order comes down to execute three prisoners, even veteran hangman Kim Cheol-gu (Park In-hwan) confesses he’s no longer up to the job. The detailed execution sequence lapses fractionally into melodrama, but carries emotional clout nevertheless.