Movie Review: V.I.P. (Spoilers!)

To be honest, it has been quite some time since I’ve seen an Asian movie that wasn’t Filipino or an anime movie. In fact, the last time I watched a Korean movie was years ago, when I watched “The Thieves” at a local Korean film festival with a friend, and it still remains a favorite of mine to this day. I did want to catch “Along With the Gods: Two Worlds”, but wasn’t able to catch it in local cinemas. So, for my first Korean movie after a long hiatus, I decided to go with “V.I.P.”, as I have been wanting to check it out as Lee Jong Suk (“While You Were Sleeping“, “W“) has been on my radar for a long time, and this movie allowed him to finally portray the villain. While Lee Jong Suk’s performance did not disappoint, unfortunately, the movie itself failed to live up to its potential, and had a lot of scenes that were placed just for shock value, which caused it to be criticized by many netizens as being misogynist.

“V.I.P.” was directed by Park Hoon Jung and was released on August 23, 2017, was distributed by Warner Bros. Korea, and had a score that was created by Mowg.

The movie follows the attempts of Chae Yi Do (Kim Myung Min), a South Korean police officer, and a rogue North Korean police officer named Lee Dae Bum (Park Hee Soon), to catch a North Korean serial killer named Kim Kwang Il (Lee Jong Suk), who is untouchable due to the fact that he is a North Korean political figure’s son who has sensitive information that can benefit both the Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the CIA. The movie also was the first of its kind to try and depict state sponsored defection from the North to the South.

Interestingly, the movie wasn’t littered with action sequences, and it tried to be as streamlined as possible. Park Hoon Jung also chose an interesting way to tell the story, as it is framed in the beginning and the end with the conclusion of the actual story, and with everything leading up to it being broken down into different “chapters”. The music also tried to lend a hand in building up the tension, as it did remind me a bit of “Dunkirk” due to the persistent percussive rhythm prevalent throughout the entire score that only stopped when more dramatic music was played.

Lee Jong Suk deliberately took on the role of the serial killer as he wanted to try something out of his comfort zone. So it was quite refreshing to see him not as a romantic lead, and it showed that he can act in different genres. His Kwang Il was definitely quite menacing, smug and arrogant.

The rest of the acting was good as well, but unfortunately, veteran Western actor Peter Stormare was very much miscast in his role as CIA Agent Paul Gray. His character, unlike the usual Western actors they get for parts in Asian movies, was able to gel with the Korean cast, but unfortunately, the character itself didn’t suit him at all.

Now, even though the movie wasn’t presented as overly complicated, and you could see the power struggles happening between the NIS  and the local police, and even with the score, there was something missing that would add an extra punch and tension to the entire movie. Also, I do agree with the criticism of most netizens that the women in this movie really just felt like animals and objects for Kwang Il to slaughter. Sure, that’s what his character perceives them as, but I thought that the scenes depicting the killings, even though their bodies were blurred as is done usually with South Korean films and tv shows, it just felt unnecessary long and drawn out.

If you are a fan of Lee Jong Suk, I do recommend that you see this movie, as it shows that he can step out of his comfort zone and be in different genres. However, as a whole, this movie unfortunately did fail to live up to its potential, and ended up stooping down to showing unnecessary long and drawn out shocking scenes for the sake of shock value alone.

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As mentioned earlier, the movie itself tries to be a sparse and streamlined thriller, with action sequences when needed. It also tried to be a little bit more cerebral as it showed the power play between the local police force doing their jobs and seeking lawful justice and the intelligence community, represented by the NIS and the CIA, who have agendas of their own.

However, despite everything, it still felt like a lot was going on, and the main characters weren’t as fleshed out as I wanted them to be, so I had no real emotional investment in them. I also felt that the stakes weren’t high enough.  Although the acting was good, and I see what they were trying to do, it fell a little bit flat in execution, which is a shame because the premise itself is very interesting.

Lee Jong Suk was the reason I watched this movie, and as mentioned earlier, if you are a fan of his, this is definitely a movie that you will want to watch as he isn’t playing the romantic lead, but a villain. He makes an extremely terrifying villain, but I wish we had more insight into what makes him tick. I do wish we had more scenes of him talking and being interrogated, as it looked like he was savoring every word he uttered in this movie.

Unfortunately, I do agree that many of the scenes showing how he and his minions toyed and killed women were too long drawn out to the point that it felt like they were going for shock value for shock value’s sake, which does make the movie a very uncomfortable watch, even if they did censor and blur the bodies as they usually do in South Korean entertainment.

Jang Dong Gun, Kim Myung Min, and Park Hee Soon acted really well in their respective roles, but I  would have loved to have seen more set up with their characters, or enough so that I would have an emotional attachment to them. Their character motivations were clear, but I just felt that the execution with regards to them could have been fleshed out better. Jang Dong Gun’s character, among the three of them, was the one that ended up having a more defined story arc, but even so, it was not enough for me to root for him, especially in the end when he’s finally able to kill Kwang Il.

Stormare is a veteran Western actor, and he gels better with the Korean cast than most Western actors in Asian films do. Unfortunately, I do feel that he was miscast, as he wasn’t believable at all as a CIA agent.

In the end, this movie failed to live up to its potential, which is a shame, and received quite a lot of flak and controversy due to its depiction of women, which is something that I do agree on. However, this is a good showcase of Lee Jong Suk’s talents as an actor, and does prove that he is able to take on roles in multiple genres, which will definitely benefit him in the future.

Have you seen “V.I.P.”? What did you think of it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Image Source: Warner Bros. Korea Instagram

 

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