One of the top Korean box office hits of 2015, Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran is a glorious throwback to the uncomplicated days of ‘80s buddy cop crime comedy thrillers. A little less than subtle in its social commentary, Veteran nevertheless takes aim at corrupt corporate culture and the second generation rich kids who inherit daddy’s company but are filled with an apathetic, bored arrogance that is mostly their own.
Seo Do-cheol (Hwang Jung-min) is, as one other officer puts it, the kind of police officer who joined the force just to beat people up. He loves to fight and isn’t afraid of initiating a little “resisting arrest” action just to make things run a little more smoothly. However, when he strikes up a friendship with a put-upon truck driver and his cute as a button son only to miss a crucial telephone call that eventually lands said truck driver in the hospital, Do-cheol’s sense of social justice is inflamed. After trying to join a trade union, Bae, the truck driver, is unceremoniously let go from his company. On taking his complaint directly to the head of Sin Jin Trading, playboy rich kid Tae-oh, Bae is subjected to the most cruel and humiliating “interview” of his life before apparently attempting to commit suicide after having realised the utter hopelessness of his situation. Incensed on his new friend’s behalf, Do-cheol is determined to take down these arrogant corporatists what ever the costs may be!
Veteran makes no secret of its retro roots. It even opens with a joyously fun sequence set to Blondie’s 1979 disco hit, Heart of Glass. Like those classic ‘80s movies, Veteran manages to mix in a background level of mischievous comedy which adds to the overall feeling of effortless cool that fills the film even when things look as if they might be about to take a darker turn. The action sequences are each exquisitely choreographed and filled with sight gags as the fight crazy Do-cheol turns just about any random object that appears to be close to hand into an improbable weapon.
Make no mistake about it either, this is a fight heavy film. Though Veteran has a very masculine feeling, it is to some degree evened out by the supreme Miss Bong whose high-class high kicks can take out even the toughest opponents and seem to have most of her teammates looking on in awe, while the withering gaze of Do-cheol’s put upon wife seems determined to remind him that he’s not some delinquent punk anymore but a respectable police officer with a wife and child who could benefit from a little more consideration.
Indeed, Tae-oh and his henchmen aren’t above going after policemen’s wives in an effort to get them to back off. Though this initial overture begins with an attempt at straightforward bribery (brilliantly dealt with by Mrs. Seo who proves more than a match more the arrogant lackeys), there is a hint of future violence if the situation is not resolved. Tae-oh is a spoiled, psychopathic rich kid who lacks any kind of empathy for any other living thing and actively lives to inflict pain on others in order to breathe his own superiority. He’s probably got issues galore following in his successful father’s footsteps and essentially having not much else to do, but here he’s just an evil bastard who delights in torturing poor folk and thinks he can do whatever he likes just because he has money (and as far as the film would have it he is not wrong in that assumption).
He also loves to fight and finally meets his match in the long form finale sequence in which everything is decided in a no holds barred fist fight between maverick cop and good guy Do-cheol and irredeemable but good looking villain Tae-oh. Veteran never scores any points for subtlety and if it has any drawbacks it’s that its characterisations tend to be on the large side but what it does offer is good, old-fashioned (in a good way) action comedy that has you cheering for its team of bumbling yet surprisingly decent cops from the get go. Luckily it seems Veteran already has a couple of sequels in the pipeline, and if they’re anywhere near as enjoyable as the first film a new classic franchise may have just been born.
Veteran screened as the opening gala of the 0th Edition of the London East Asian Film Festival and also received a second London Gala screening at the 10th London Korean Film Festival on 3rd November 2015 with leading actor Hwang Jung-min in attendance for a Q&A.