Korean Film Review – Traffickers

The Blue Dragon Film Awards are an annual event designed to award excellence in Korean cinema. They’ve also become an annual cheat sheet for Korean cinema worth checking out, with Lee Chang-dong (“Green Fish,” 1997), Park Chan-wook (“Joint Security Area,” 2000, and “Oldboy,” 2003) and Kim Ji-woon (“The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” 2008) all being past winners of the Best Director award. Last year, the winner of the coveted award for Best New Director went to Kim Hong-sun for his drama “The Traffickers.”

Released in 2012, “The Traffickers” opens on a luxury boat out to sea. The peace is broken when a half-naked, knife-wielding madman tries to attack one of the passengers, who bravely fights him off before both are knocked overboard and fall to their deaths. Another man, Young-gyu (Im Chang-jung), looks on without interfering.

As the film goes on, it is eventually revealed that Young-gyu is a retired trafficker who specialized in human body parts, with long-haul cruises being his favorite location for extracting goods. The crazy man in the first scene was one of his recent victims and the seemingly innocent bystander was in fact his best friend and partner.

Young-gyu is having money problems and owes several people cash, including an up-and-coming gangster, Dong-bae, who once bailed him out after a job went wrong. Yu-ri, Young-gyu’s love interest, is also having money troubles. She needs a loan to pay for her father’s kidney transplant after the insurance company refused to cover the procedure. The young gangster offers a way to clear both debts, but it involves Young-gyu pulling off one last job on a cruise liner about to set sail to China. They want the organs of one of its passengers, a disabled woman named Chae-hee, who is on a trip with her insurance salesman husband.

After the job is already underway, things become complicated when Young-gyu realizes he recognizes his latest victim. A further complication arises when the woman’s husband, Sang-ho, despite no one believing that he ever existed, turns out to be more determined to find his wife than they first imagined. The paths of four protagonists cross just as the film sails into a shocking and brutal finale.

Overall, the film showcases solid directing and superb acting. Keep an eye out for Oh Dal-su, who plays Kyung-jae, most recognizable from Park Chan-wook’s “I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK” (2006). Playing completely against his character in “Cyborg,” he excels here as the emotionless butcher who abuses his victims before removing their organs. “Traffickers” might not be the next “Oldboy” or “I Saw the Devil” (2010), but with plenty of twists and turns — and violence — right up to the very end, fans of the genre should definitely put this on their must-see list.

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