Sunday, August 24, 2008

NYKFF: Going By the Book

Nice guys finish with a bag full of cash and a bank full of hostages. At least, that is how it looks for Jung Do-man. No good deed goes unpunished for this tragically honest cop in Going By the Book (Korean trailer here), screening during the NY Korean Film Festival.

Once a detective, Jung Do-man got himself busted down to traffic patrolman for daring to investigate the corrupt local provincial governor. He even has the bad fortune of ticketing the new police chief on his first day on the job. Of course, Jung Do-man writes it up—unless ordered differently he does everything strictly according to Hoyle.

That might be annoying, but it convinces the new Chief he is the right cop to play robber in an elaborate training exercise he is planning. Their sleepy backwater has suffered a rash of bank heists recently, so with the cooperation of the banks, the Chief instructs his force one of their own will attempt a bank job. They will have no idea how, but it will be their job to stop it. He knows Jung Do-man will take the assignment seriously enough to put on a good show for the media, which is what this exercise is really for.

Unfortunately, Jung Do-man does not understand that. Ordered to hold up a bank, he proceeds to do just that. So when a colleague approaches, he shoots him in the head. It was only a blank of course, but he is dead to the training game. At first the Chief is pleased to see Jung Do-man make a good show of it, but when he disables the cameras and lowers the shutters, he realizes he has an embarrassing situation on his hands, with an amused media enjoying the spectacle. Suddenly the hypothetical bodies are piling up with no end in sight.

Book puts a new twist on the hostage crisis story and makes the most of it. In truth, there are story holes all over the place, but it does not matter. The film is inventive enough to just keep careening over them. While watching Book, it seemed like a movie ripe for an American remake, but upon reflection it probably would not be credible in an American context. Book is dependent on its characters strictly observing the rules of the exercise. Most would expect American cops to take Jung Do-man out, whatever the rules, once the department started suffering public embarrassment.

Jang Jin’s script is quite clever. At times it treads close to some dark places, but it always pulls back just in time to maintain its brisk comedic spirit. Director La Hee-chan keeps things zipping along nicely and Jeong Jae-young is perfect as Jung Do-man, the straight-man who takes over the joke of a training exercise. Book is a very entertaining film that should prove a crowd pleaser if it is picked up for further American distribution. It screens again during the NYKFF on Monday at the Cinema Village and Saturday at BAM.