Saturday, July 02, 2011

NYAFF ’11: Troubleshooter

Cops don’t make a lot of dough. Divorce gumshoes do even worse. There is serious money in politics though. Of course, ex-cop Kang Tae-sik was way too straight to get in on the corruption gravy train. Unfortunately, he is pulled into a shadowy political conspiracy anyway in Kwon Hyeok-jae’s Troubleshooter (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival currently blowing the roof off the Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater.

Kang did not quite do enough due diligence on his latest divorce snoop job. Barging into a murder frame-up instead of two illicit lovers in a hotel love nest, he finds a ringing cell phone next to the dead body. The mystery voice calling promises to clear Kang’s name if he can evade capture long enough to do the cabal’s bidding. There happens to be a certain state’s witness due to testify against the leaders of the dodgy opposition party. As luck would have it, Kang has history with the disgraced bank chairman, none of it good, which makes the noose fit snugger. Indeed, the double-crosses and betrayals come fast and furious in Troubleshooter, even threatening Kang’s young daughter.

Despite the complex uber-conspiracy afoot, Troubleshooter is an old school wrong-man thriller. Basically, Kang runs like mad, laying the smack-down on everyone who gets in his way in hopes that it will shake loose some exculpatory evidence. Frankly, it is a winning strategy, at least cinematically.

An international cult star as the lead of the Public Enemy franchise, Sol Kyung-gu brings considerable hardnose cred, but also shows a more sheepish everyman side as Kang. He certainly knows how to handle a fight scene, including a brutal close-quarters mano-a-mano in a bathroom that looks painful, for real. Yet, Oh Dal-su (of Old Boy fame) manages to outdo his haggard understatement as the honest copper assigned to the case. NYAFF audiences should also enjoy Moon Jung-hee’s icy smooth villainy as the spokesdaughter of the thoroughly corrupt party boss looking to make a comeback.

Co-written with festival favorite Ryoo Seung-wan (a special guest of this year’s festival), Troubleshooter is rather vague on the politics of the political skullduggery. Maintaining the breakneck forward momentum is far more important. With a slick shiny look that will make viewers nostalgic for high concept 1980’s action movies, it definitely hits the target it aims for. Part of NYAFF’s Sea of Revenge focus on recent Korean thrillers, Troubleshooter would make an exhausting double feature with Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser, another hyper-kinetic man on the run selection at this year’s festival. Heartily recommended to action connoisseurs, Troubleshooter screens July 12th and 14th as the 2011 NYAFF roars on at the Walter Reade, with The Chaser also screening on the latter date.