The Unjust

It would be only a mild exaggeration to say that something or someone gets kicked in every single scene of The Unjust. But it’s no exaggeration to say that every character, blood boiling, screams his head off at some point. (There’s also a fair amount of face-slapping.) The film’s title seems to refer to every level of Korea’s social hierarchy and organization: the family, the court system, the police, big business, and, of course, the press. This is ostensibly a serial-killer flick, yet the criminal is absent from the proceedings, and the dubious order comes from the top: find and nail a perp—any perp—guilty or not.

Although there is much discord, the main conflict would have to be between bitter cop Choi (Hwang Jung-min) and cocky prosecutor Joo (Ryoo Seung-bum). The former has been repeatedly passed over for a promotion; the latter is dripping with overweening confidence and entitlement. Joo is also involved with a venal real-estate developer. Both characters are representatives of “the law,” and both take extreme liberties with its interpretation. In addition to the ongoing investigation into the killings, there’s an internal-affairs review looming over Choi. (Hwang gives his character one of the greatest hangdog expressions of the year.)

The film begins full throttle and pulls out all the stops when it comes to plot convolutions. A Variety review dubbed it “needlessly complicated” but in the end the constantly expanding web of complexity accentuates the narrative drive. By the time it reaches its climax the viewer has been primed for serious fireworks—and director Ryoo Seung-wan delivers hand over fist (or foot). (This is the guy, by the way, who began his action career some 10 years ago with the subtly titled Die Bad.) Gunfire, a big knife, and perhaps best of all, a jaw-dropping elevator malfunction all figure in the mix. Judging by this, South Korean cinema isn’t just alive and well, it’s kicking and screaming.

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