Running Turtle was shown as part of the London Korean Film Festival ’12 and was one of our unexpected favourites. Not knowing anything about this film, other than the title and the fact that it wasn’t actually about the reptile, we went in with an open mind were pleasantly surprised. Keep reading for our review – some spoilers will probably be involved.
Jo Pil Seong (Kim Yoon Seok) is a rather lazy and bumbling detective, living in a small town that seems to be located in the back end of nowhere. Seemingly a constant burden on his family because of his gambling habits, he is a disappointment to his wife and an unstable father figure to his young daughters. Making promises to his children he is unable to keep and avoiding his wife’s withering gaze, he turns more and more to gambling.
When he hears of a sure thing on a bull fight, he ‘borrows’ his wife’s savings and asks his friend to place a bet for him. When the bull come out on top, Pil Seong wins big, he’s finally caught some good luck! However, unluckily for him, escaped prisoner and infamous fighter Song Gi Tae (Jung Kyung Ho) is around town and notices Pil Seong’s win. While Pil Seong’s friends are looking after his winnings, Gi Tae stops by, kicks some ass, and grabs the money. Pil Seong runs into Gi Tae, tries to get his money back, and fails miserably but manages to recognise the wanted convict. His colleagues don’t believe him when he turns up the next day with his hand handcuffed to his ankle saying he’s seen the escaped prisoner, dismissing it as just some drunken rampage and simply using Gi Tae as an excuse.
Slighting miffed at his fellow detective’s lack of support, Pil Seong rounds up his slightly less than capable friends who are still sore from the beating and uses Gi Tae’s rumoured girl friend as a starting point for his own private investigation. Tracking the girlfriend, Kyeong Joo (Seon Woo Seon), to her house, Pil Seong spies Gi Tae and gathers his friends to start a siege. Once again, Gi Tae manages to overpower everyone, and speeds off, not before teaching Pil Seong’s hand a painful lesson and promising to kill him the next time he sees him. Pil Seong becomes a man possessed and starts his campaign to hunt Gi Tae down by any means. Cue more hilarious failed attempts at capture by the friends, Pil Seong taking fighting lessons from one crazily enthusiastic Taekwondo instructor, more ear bashing from the wife, general shenanigans and a rather dramatic ending.
One of the main things that really helped to create the world of Pil Seong was the location and area in which the film was set. The town in which Pil Seong lived looked cut off from the rest of the world and isolated, allowing you to fully immerse yourself into the film. The ruralness of the location and the quiet and still atmosphere of the film helped to keep the viewer concentrate on Pil Seong’s story with no distractions. The slow pace of the town also reflected the lives of the characters there; their existences are mostly quiet and slow, and somewhat old fashioned. The atmosphere of the location of the film pervades throughout the film and becomes almost like a character itself.
For those that have watched lots of Korean films, the slightly inept detective turned revenge driven man might seem very familiar. It might seem even more so in Running Turtle as actor Kim Yoon Seok played a similar character in The Chaser, a former policeman who is looked down on by his ex-colleagues, and on a revenge hunt for a criminal. However, the tone of his character in this film is a lot ‘lighter’, as The Chaser is altogether a darker film. There are many comical elements to the character of Pil Seong, and his progression from a man who seems to have no motivation to someone with a goal is interesting to watch. Even though the theme of a cop chasing a thief isn’t the most unique of plots, the character of Pil Seong is what makes this film great and stand out. Watching his dogged determination to catch Gi Tae grow over the course of the film, and the lengths that he’ll go to, is fascinating.
The antagonist Gi Tae is mysterious, almost too mysterious. We don’t ever really find out what he did to be in prison in the first place, how he’s such an awesome fighter, or why he’s such a nice guy underneath all the stealing and finger severing. However, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really feel like we, as the audience, need to discover his whole back story. We’re following Pil Seong’s story, and as such, only know as much as he does about his nemesis.
The gang that Pil Seong seems to acquire along the way is something that’s often very funny and is constantly amusing to watch. The comical moments that these friends create help to alleviate some of the more tense moments as the film builds. One of our favourite moments was when the gang of men were staking out Kyeong Joo’s house, standing in a field dressed as ahjummas. Genius tactics! Another of our favourite side kicks was the Taekwondo instructor, whose exuberant fighting skills made for some very fun viewing. It’s these amusing characters that help to give the film another dimension. Having a ‘police chases criminal’ plot meant that Running Turtle has a lot of competition as many other films are in the same vein, but the comical aspects really makes it unique and helps it to stand out.
For a film that for the most part has characters that don’t look like they should really be attempting any sort of great physical exertion, there are some pretty impressive stunts and fight scenes going on. In particular, Pil Seong and Gi Tae’s face off near the end is very impressive. The physicality of the fight is very convincing and not overdone like you might find in some big budget action films. The fight actually looked realistic; it was definitely one you would imagine a has-been cop and a young fighter having. Actor Kim Yoon Seok was originally meant to attend a Q&A after the film, but unfortunately couldn’t come in the end. It would have been interesting to ask him about the fight scenes and how difficult they were to film. A stunt we also loved in this film was when Gi Tae rammed a trailer of undercover police off a hill using a massive truck. Gi Tae is so romantic, we wish someone would monster truck a container off a hill for us <3 We’d like to point out the police in the trailer all seemed to be OK (we think).
The title Running Turtle may at first seem a bit strange, but the more you think on it, the more suitable it seems. Pil Seong starts off slow, lethargic and like he needs a kick up the backside to get himself in gear. He may be slow, but he doesn’t stop, and will eventually reach his goal. Throughout the whole film, he’s running (or wheezing) after Gi Tae, but won’t quit even after multiple failures. Running Turtle is a film that has a great balance of comedy, drama and action. All the elements of the film come together to create something that will appeal to a wide variety of people. This film isn’t a ground breaking masterpiece in its genre, but it didn’t aspire to be, and watching it you appreciate it for what it is – a thoroughly entertaining film.