Do Not Engage.
These three words perfectly encapsulate every major character in this very engaging film from South Korea.
In the pre-credit sequence we see two very similar (but couldn't be more different) situations played perfectly against one another. In one, Yoon-joo Ha AKA: Piglet (Hyo-ju Han) is tailing Kyung-gu Sol throughout the city, attempting to remain unseen. Immediately we can see that she is uncommonly bright and observant. In the other sequence, James (Woo-sung Jung) orchestrates a bank robbery from the top of a sky rise. The results of both endeavours, though shown to be successful, could also be seen as failures. Both in the fact that the people trying to remain in the shadows are forced to engage.
As the plot progresses, Piglet is hired to be in an elite squad of surveillance experts. The leader, Chief Hwang, organizes his team to find a suspect from the earlier robbery in the vast city of Seoul with only a general description. What follows is like a combination of the "tailing" segment of French Connection and the "surveillance" of The Conversation with more gloss and less Gene Hackman. Complications arise and Hwang needs to remind Piglet, that no matter what is happening, it is their job not to get involved, and only to observe.
On the other side, James is forced into doing more work, which he reluctantly agrees to. Though he is mostly a spectator/planner, much like the team hunting him down, he can kick some serious ass when needed. And he proves that the pen is mightier than the sword. And possibly an Uzi. Woo-sung Jung really shines as James, a mastermind criminal; reserved, observant, meticulous and incredibly dangerous. He is absolutely cold hearted, but you can still see the human being who wants out without getting caught.
Eventually things are bound to come to a head, and when they do the film really kicks it up a notch. Both sides are forced to come out of hiding and have to make life and death decisions. Some revel in it, some don't. It is akin to the fluffers on a porn set finally getting to participate in the gangbang! Kinda.
What works great in the film is the constant feeling of the team getting one step closer to James, as he tries to distance himself from his crimes. And when the action hits, there are some great set pieces. The lower billed team of criminals and surveillance experts both serve their purposes well, though they are merely background characters for the leads to work off of.
This is a very fun procedural that never tries to attain the heights of a Memories of Murder, but works very well as popcorn fare. And keep an eye out at the end for a cameo from a GGTMC favourite who has recently added Korean cinema to his CV.
MVT: James. Easily. A great villain who is as brutal as he is smart. The movie always felt like it kicked it up a notch whenever he was on screen.
Make or Break: When James finally realizes he has to take matters into his own hands. Shit really hits the fan on both sides and makes for fantastic viewing.