Thursday, July 07, 2016

NYAFF ’16: A Violent Prosecutor

When prosecuting a case, Byun Jae-wook bangs on the facts when the facts are on his side and he bangs on the law when the law is on his side. When he gets stuck, he bangs on heads, making him all too vulnerable for a nasty frame-up job in director-screenwriter Lee Il-hyeong’s A Violent Prosecutor (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

It all started when a politically connected and mobbed-up (is there really any difference?) development company sends a pack of provocateurs to crash an environmental protest. In the ensuing melee, a police officer is badly hurt. That was not necessarily part of the plan, but it turns public opinion on a dime. Byun smells a rat, so he does his best to intimidate an asthmatic suspect into confessing. The lowlife idiot was fine when he left him, but he is inconveniently dead when Byun returns in the morning, with nary an inhaler in sight.

The massively corrupt former deputy chief prosecutor-turned congressional candidate Woo Jong-il completes the frame-up by disposing of the inhaler and conning Byun into a guilty plea. Byun will spend the next five years behind bars, but he will have plenty of time to work on his case. There is only so much Byun can do from his cell, but pretty boy con artist Han Chi-won will reluctantly serve as his proxy in exchange for successfully masterminding his appeal.

VP is another monster box-office hit for Hwang Jung-min, making him one of the most bankable stars in the world. It is also immediately reassuring to see him strut into a picture. He is constitutionally incapable of being dull, perhaps because even when he plays good guys, there is always something slightly off about him. Prosecutor Byun is a perfect case in point.

Although Gang Dong-won got most of the press for his lightweight Axel Foley act, it is the old pros who really shore up VP. Frequent heavy Park Sung-woong (terrific in For the Emperor) adds rich layers of nuance and uncertainty as Yang Min-woo, the ambitious prosecutor tempted to do the right thing. Likewise, Lee Sung-min raises calculated clamminess to an art form as the villainous Woo.

VP starts somewhat slowly and it is more than a little heavy handed, but the second and third acts are deliciously entertaining. Lee pulls off one reversal after another, steadily raising the stakes which each deal. The results are fun and cathartic. Recommended for fans of “wrong man” thrillers, A Violent Prosecutor screens tomorrow (7/8) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYAFF.