The Target is screening at this year’s Korean Film Festival in Australia. See the KOFFIA website for more details!
The Target begins with a rainy cold-open in which Baek Yeo-hoon (Ryu Seung-ryong) staggers out of a building, a bullet wound in his stomach and a grizzled grimace on his face. He’s pursued by a couple of literally jackbooted thugs with guns who seem intent on finishing him off — and although Baek makes it out alive, he’s hospitalised. The credits crawl, showing us that Baek is some sort of freelance military contractor, a veteran of who-knows-how-many war zones.
Young medical resident Lee Tae-joon (played by Korean TV heartthrob Lee Jin-wook in his first major film role), manages to stabilise him on his arrival… only to find himself caught in the middle, as unknown assailants disguised as doctors try to kill Baek in his hospital bad. Ratcheting up the pressure further is a voice on the end of a phone line (played by Jin Goo, Mother), who claims to have kidnapped Lee’s wife Hee-joo (Jo Yeo-jeong), and demands that Lee break the injured man out of the hospital under the nose of the cops, who suspect him of murder.
You get the idea. The Target is one of those muscular, plot-driven action-thrillers that South Korea has become so very good at over the last decade or so. Despite an attempt to warm him up with a lovable golden retriever and a family relationship, Ryu Seung-ryong as Baek is all-business, the sort of action hero that springs to violence quickly and is only slightly slowed down by the occasional bullet. Eventually, he and doctor Lee team up to find their adversaries, and innocent bystander Lee brings all the human emotion to the table: his wife is very pregnant, and he’s willing to do absolutely anything to get her back from her kidnapper.
Frequent Hong Sang-soo collaborator Yoo Jun-sang mixes it up a bit here and plays the villain in thoroughly over-the-top fashion, from his conspiratorial looks to his frequent outbursts of violence against both enemies and underlings.
Once the plot becomes established, we also have a police investigation taking place as well, as a group of detectives try to make sense of the events that we the audience see more of than they do. Perhaps as a contrast to all the machismo in play, both the competent, cool-headed detectives are women, Detectives Jung Young-joo (Kim Sung-ryung, The Client) and Park Soo-jin (Jo Eun-ji, How to Steal a Dog, also screening at KOFFIA 2015).
The Target is a remake of 2010 French film Point Blank (À bout portant), which I haven’t seen, so I’m not able to comment on the similarities and differences. After watching the trailer for the original film (research!), though, I’m going to go out on a reasonably sturdy-looking limb and guess that there were a few changes made to the lead characters to amp up the melodrama. It certainly looks like both films share the same ferocious pace, though.
The technical side of the film is more than competent; it’s fun to look at, recalling Hong Kong’s heroic bloodshed films of the 80s and 90s but with a polished, modern sheen, and the frequent action sequences are well-choreographed and shot. The Target doesn’t have the mesmerising sense of mounting horror of something like The Chaser, or the depth of The Yellow Sea, but it’s definitely an entertaining slice of cinema for action fans.