The Beast – All Business

Country: Korea
Genre: Action/ Suspense/ Martial Arts
Director: Hwang Yoo-sik
Year: 2011

Rating: ★★★½☆

TRASH CINEMA RECOMMENDED MOVIE

The boss of an live internet porn site has a business problem. His site is losing money and he’s pinpointed the reason; the pros he’s hiring for online sex are a turnoff. He needs amateurs, preferably models.

Siblings Bo-ra (Nalie Lee) and Tae-hoon (Jeong Seok-won) are all alone in the world. Their last living relative, their grandmother, has just passed away. Coincidentally, Tae-hoon is scheduled to be assigned to an elite commando unit in Afghanistan in two days time.

Bo-ra accepts a last minute modeling gig, but finds out that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

When Tae-hoon finds out that Bo-ra has been kidnapped, he has only two days to find her before he’s shipped out and she’s forced to walk the ho’ stroll.

As usual, the Korean Keystone cops are of no help. They suggest to Tae-hoon that he go home and wait for his sister to call. Nice.

Tae-hoon, however impressive his physical skills might be, is little more than a boy. When he goes after the criminal syndicate that kidnapped his sister with only his fists, we’re aghast.

The creeps who run the Internet porn biz are soulless thugs. Criminals who do terrible things often claim that it’s “just business, nothing personal.” With these guys, it’s actually true. They respond to Bo-ra’s terror with wan amusement. As far as they’re concerned, they have an absolute right to make money. Whoever happens to gets hurt in the process merits zero consideration.

The genre setup is flawless. Both the stakes and the ticking clocks (the assignment to Iraq and the live broadcast starring Bo-ra) are original and compelling.

The result is that, for at least the first hour, The Beast is almost unbearably suspenseful.

But there’s something keeping The Beast from being an absolute classic. As the film spools out, it becomes obvious that the filmmakers are privileging genre elements above storytelling or theme. The film is packed with fights, far beyond what actually makes sense. And the fights are accompanied by “action movie” music. Although the fights are well filmed and performed, radiating a sense of danger, at least in isolation, the forced and artificial nature of these confrontations deny the viewer the experience of being fully engrossed in the hero’s situation. Instead, we realize that we’re watching a movie, a sort of superior filmed version of Tekken or Mortal Combat.

That’s a pity, because there’s so much that director Hwang Yoo-sik gets right. Other than the fights, the picture is paced well. Because of the premise, the fact that the protagonists are so young and Tiger Beat attractive, instead of being an irritant, is heartbreaking.

The filmmakers also make a feint in the direction of social commentary in the scenes leading up to the live broadcast. We see geeky teens and young men salivating at the prospect of the innocent Bo-ra being violated. These aren’t evil people per se, but they have allowed the distance between their mouse and the victim to dull them enough to participate in something downright evil.

If only Hwang Yoo-sik had made the genre elements less obvious and supplied more thematic material to deepen his movie, The Beast might have been a classic.

Instead, The Beast is a good piece of product, a skillfully made action/suspense movie that you’ll have trouble remembering within a day or so, which is sadly all that it was intended to be.

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