Ryoo Seung-wan (The Berlin File, 2013; The Unjust, 2010; Crying Fist, 2005) is often listed on Korean cinema fans’ top-10 lists of favorite working Korean directors. He has sometimes been called the Quentin Tarantino of Korea for his stylistic choices and clear homage to the action films from the Shaw Brothers canon and even Jackie Chan productions, which probably can most clearly be seen in his 2006 upbeat action ballad, The City of Violence. However, his filmography clearly has more critical misfires (e.g., No Blood No Tears, 2002; or Arahan, 2004) than Tarantino and can sometimes lack in quality dialogue. Veteran rises above as one of director Ryoo’s superior works.
The cast of Veteran is stacked with familiar faces from some of Korea’s biggest male talents. Hwang Jung-min (The Unjust) (Dancing Queen) (Ode To My Father) effectively takes the lead as detective Seo. Committed to justice, his persistence in determining the truth behind the various criminal cases is played masterfully. He effectively combines his dramatic strengths while incorporating impeccable comedic timing.
The supporting cast is equally as strong. Detective Seo is part of a police team that is set to rise through the ranks of the department after having made some high-profile busts. Each member carries their own weight and are held together by their team leader, Oh, played by one of the best supporting actors in Korea, Oh Dal-su (Assassination) (Ode To My Father) (The Attorney).
They begin to investigate events surrounding a violent incident that took place at the headquarters of a powerful conglomerate. Yoo Ah-in (Boys of Tomorrow) (Punch) plays the young heir to the wealthy corporation, Jo Tae-oh, and makes the shortlist for evil characters whom you desperately want something bad to happen to. He plays the rich young sociopath so well that you can’t help but root even harder for Detective Seo to get to the bottom of his investigation. Jo Tae-oh’s right hand man, Director Choi, is played by Yu Hae-jin (The Classified File) (Tazza) (The Flu), who has shown he can play just about any role given to him.
Although Ryoo Seung-wan is mostly known for his gritty, realistic portrayal of action and fight sequences from films like Die Bad (2000), No Blood No Tears (2002), and The Unjust (2010), he also has an eye for comedic and even comic book styled action as seen in Arahan (2004), City of Violence (2006), or Dachimawa Lee (2008). In Veteran, director Ryoo has perfectly blended these styles into a single package. His longtime friend and collaborator, Jung Doo-hong, is probably Korea’s best action director and delivers more amazing action and fight sequences in Veteran. Also, the action scenes seem to evolve in style as the film progresses. Beginning with goofy crowd-roaring fun, the action later becomes more gritty, as we get more intense edge-of-your-seat chases and street brawls.
Everything comes together in Veteran to make for one of my favorite films of 2015. The script is very tight and often laugh-out-loud funny, all while being full of action and staying within the dramatic seriousness of being a crime and police procedural film. With a filmography almost split between hits and misses, I’m very happy to find Veteran on the hits side. Definitely being worthy of multiple viewings, here’s to hoping for a nice blu-ray release for the home library.
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