Forget the cop-out of an anti-climax that the makers of “The Policeman’s Lineage” insisted upon, and you’ve got a decent thriller built around the struggle for a young Korean cop’s soul.
Director Lee Kyu-maan and screenwriter Bae Young-Ik set up Choi Woo-sik of “Okja” and the Oscar-winning “Parasite” as Choi, scrupulous young third generation cop trapped between two feuding superiors, each apparently worse than or at least as unethical as the other.
As one is the celebrated Det. Park, played by Cho Jin-woong of “The Handmaiden,” famous for his network of “informers” and the busts that result from them, and the other is the Internal Affairs Chief Ho (Park Hee-soon of “1987: When the Day Comes”), who sent Choi undercover to find the dirt on Park, you see the kid’s dilemma.
Add in the fact that Park was there the day Choi’s cop-dad was killed, and there are all these feelings, summed up in flashbacks to that fateful day and Choi’s cop-worshipping youth, to consider.
Even though Choi was chosen for this job thanks to his turning in and testifying against an older cop fond of torturing suspects, Park’s elite squad takes him in and Park makes the kid his driver.
What’s the wily older cop’s play here? Is he keeping somebody he should beware of close to him to monitor the new guy’s activities? Is he that careless? Or is he merely guileless because his heart is pure?
Ho is obsessed with getting his man, a “dirty cop” who is “a tumor who must be removed with a scalpel.” Ho isn’t shy about taking shortcuts to “justice” either.
But when we see Choi driving Park around in his big Mercedes, takes a look around the detective chief’s swank apartment filled with designer Gucci and Burberry fashions, and gets to ride on the boss’s big fishing boat, he and we have to wonder if Ho is right on the money.
“I knew your father” carries some weight. And Park’s reasoning — playing the big shot so that he can get close to the rich mobsters he’s pursuing (Kwon Yul and Park Myeong-hoon) –seems sound.
“We have to meet them to catch them,” he rationalizes (in Korean with English subtitles). Exclusive poker games and the like back that up.
But who is playing whom here?
The players are in fine form here, with Cho poker-faced and Choi letting us see his character’s nerves. The villains are loud and vile, and are in barely enough scenes to stand out.
Crime-film specialist Lee (“Child…”) gets our heroes and villains into some awful tussles even as the clues that point the viewer to conclusions that Choi takes forever to catch up to.
I sensed an imbalance to the screenplay, a need to build up Ho and suggest more of a tug-of-war over Choi’s loyalties and future than the film delivers. A couple of scenes show Ho’s obsession. A couple more would have helped.
And then there’s the whole “cop-out” “anticlimax” thing that takes the sting out of the finale. Boo!
Up until then, though, this is a tense, sometimes exciting police procedural dirty-cop hunt that works, that maintains some of its mystery and delivers righteous violence in just the right doses.
Rating: Unrated, violence, drug content
Cast: Cho Jin-woong, Choi Woo-sik, Hee-soon Park, Kwon Yul and Park Myeong-hoon
Credits: Directed by Lee Kyu-maan, scripted by Bae Young-Ik An Echelon release, available for sale or streaming June 7.
Running time: 1:59