The Chaser is as good as thrillers get.
Here’s the setup: Joong-ho Eom is an ex-cop and a pimp. He loans his women large sums of money; they work it off. He’s running a good racket, but then his workers start disappearing. He figures they’re running or being sold. When he pressures one of his women to go out on a call and she disappears, he gives chase while the trail's still hot.
He’s about to find out that his women aren't running, but falling victim to a killer who’s even more evil than he. He’s about to find out that his women are human beings. In fact, he’s about to find out that he’s a human being.
This is a great premise, and the film delivers with a clever structure and fantastic pacing that rockets along all the way through to the denoument.
Star Yun-seok Kim, as Joong-ho, finds a way to invest us in his evil pimp character. As he navigates a world of well-intentioned but fallible police officers, untrusting and untrustworthy members of Seoul’s underworld, and the simple physical limitations of fatigue and stress, we both hang on his every move and root for his developing conscience. Yeong-hi Seo as Young-min Jee, the woman whom Joong-ho pressured and whom he's now trying to save, creates a character with a combination of guts, vulnerability, and desperation that gives us a real, edge-of-our seats concern and fear for her well-being. Finally, Jung-woo Ha, as the killer, delivers a bland insanity that gets under our skin and shocks us when he acts on his (impulses?) (needs?).
The Chaser takes these characters, puts them in a story that shifts among them as it develops, and creates the sense of urgency that comes from the certain knowledge that the clock could run out on anyone at any time. I won't tell you how or even if it breaks that tension, but I will tell you that it sticks the landing.
If you like thrillers, you owe it to yourself to seek out The Chaser. Be warned, however: this is a Korean movie, and Korean movies generally don't flinch. If you're ok with that, stand by.