J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Chronicles of Evil: You Could Say This Case is Personal

Chief Detective Choi’s latest investigation represents something of a conflict of interest. He is under considerable professional and political pressure to close the case quickly, regardless of the truth. Technically, he also happens to be the killer, but you would hardly call him the mastermind of screenwriter-director Baek Woon-hak’s dark thriller The Chronicles of Evil (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Queens.

After years of plugging, Det. Choi is on the verge of a national appointment. He has just received the presidential service medal, so if he can avoid entanglements for the next few months, his career should be made. Unfortunately, after a night celebrating with the Detective Squad, Choi’s cabbie waylays him, taking him to a remote park, where he tries to kill the baffled flatfoot. Leathery old Choi turns out to be more than his assailant can handle. However, after killing the man in self-defense, Choi covers up the incident rather than risk the inevitable controversy. This will be a mistake in retrospect.

The next morning, the top brass is outraged when a corpse is found very publically dangling from a crane at a construction site. Of course, Choi recognizes him. To satisfy his superiors, he will have to clear the case quickly, but he knows the DNA under the vic’s fingernails and the blurry CTV images of a passenger in backseat will inevitably lead back to him. Therefore Choi must try to ferret out his mystery antagonist, while struggling to cover his own tracks.

In a way, Chronicles somewhat parallels Kevin Costner’s breakout hit No Way Out, but Baek gives the story some grittily distinctive cops-and-stalkers twists. He shrewdly positions Choi as a figure compromised enough to deserve his predicament, but decent enough to root for. Baek nicely keeps one darned thing coming after another, getting flat-out Biblical down the stretch.

Recognizable to genre fans from Huh Jung’s Hide and Seek, Son Hyun-joo is perfectly cast as Det. Choi. He looks like a migraine personified and has vinegary world weariness sweating out of every pore. Ma Dong-seok (a.k.a. Don Lee) is also reliably charismatic and hardnosed as Choi’s chief deputy, Det. Oh. This is a manly ensemble that has little time for romantic subplots or comic relief. They are all about covering-up and settling scores. When you spy a somewhat metrosexual character, be suspicious—very suspicious.

Baek is a wickedly smooth director, who pulls the audience through this murky morality tale at warp speed. Even though it is a supporting role, Chronicles (along with The Fives, Kundo, and Nameless Gangster) suggests Ma/Lee has enough cult/genre credibility for Hollywood to start calling. They could use someone with his action cred and screen presence. Highly recommended for fans of anti-heroic cop thrillers, The Chronicles of Evil opens this Friday (5/22) at the AMC Bay Terrace, in Flushing, Queens.

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