A Violent Prosecutor (2016, South Korea)

A Violent Prosecutor - Jeong-min Hwang as prosecutor Byun Jae-wook

How many TV shows and movies have featured unorthodox police investigators being told to drop a case, yet the detective obstinately stays involved in spite of their superior’s instructions? That’s what happens here… but the investigator finishes up getting framed for the suspect’s murder. Which is perhaps not quite so orthodox.

Byun Jae-wook is not a detective but a proud, intense investigating prosecutor who has a tendency to be a little heavy-handed in his dealings with suspects. He is becoming a bit of a liability, and when he starts to interrogate Lee Jin-seok, an asthmatic young man who has allegedly KO’d a policeman with a pipe during an environmental protest, his boss, Deputy Prosecutor Woo Jong-gil (Sung-min Lee), pulls him off the case. Byun refuses to let go. He continues to interrogate Lee, sending his colleagues home so they don’t have to witness him slap the accused man about, and then leaves him locked in the interview room overnight to reflect on things. When he returns in the morning, his suspect is dead. And the man’s asthma inhaler is missing.

Byun is charged with causing Lee’s death by excessive force. He thinks later that he has cemented a deal with Woo to get probation, but successive witnesses perjure themselves and the Court finds him guilty of murder and gives him 15 years. He goes to jail feeling a little betrayed and a little innocent, but can’t dwell on those things for long as he is placed in a cell which includes a number of prisoners who aren’t necessarily endeared to him because of his former occupation, including at least one whom he has put away for 20 years. He is bashed, regularly.

But he’s no fool. He starts to help the prison guards with their legal problems, and he gets certain privileges – including the removal from his cell the prisoner who was the main instigator of the violence against him. And he helps prisoners out with their legal issues, too, gaining some status and protection around the place.

One of those whom he helps is a smooth young conman, Han Chi-won (Dong-won Kang), who – as it turns out – was also present at the site of the ill-fated environmental protest, one of a team brought in by the developers to cause enough trouble to swing popular opinion against the passive protesters. Byun gives Han’s defence counsel the means by which he can secure his client’s acquittal, and then uses the newly released Han to gain the evidence that might secure his own release. Of course, the task is a difficult and dangerous one as they uncover more and more corrupt links between the thuggish developers and Woo, who has since left the prosecutorial service to become a political candidate with a handsome slush fund, and whose reach extends into all sorts of places, including the prison.

In many respects this is not a prison movie, but a legal thriller or an exposing corruption thriller, notwithstanding that Byun orchestrates all of the thrillingness from prison. Yet the prison scenes are familiarly prisonny; manoeuvrings, deals, bashings, shakedowns, politics, and even a stabbing.

It is an entertaining film, despite Hwang’s Byun not being the most likeable character – his abuses of power, his single-mindedness, his flattened affect and serious demeanour don’t make you immediately warm to him, even as he descends in five years into a bitter cragginess, and even if his cause is a just one.  It’s also a long film, but is filled with enough tension and quiet humour (almost all of it related to Han’s scamming) to sustain it. And the prison bits look like prison, which is always good.

A Violent Prosecutor #2 - Dong-won Kang as the young conman, Han Chi-won A Violent Prosecutor #3 - Jeong-min Hwang as Byun Jae-wook and Dong-won Kang as Han Chi-won

Posted on January 1st, 2017 at 9:52 am. Updated on January 1st, 2017 at 9:52 am.

#115 in the Top 500

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