New for me
After Kim Yoonsuk's fantastic turn as a ex-cop turned pimp in The Chaser, you know that it was inevitable that he'd be wanted for another thriller, a genre that Korea is fairly adept at producing, and his followup to the success of Chaser turned out to be another cop, this time in Running Turtle. While the film is decidedly smaller in story and in thrills, it turns out that the cop and robber story has enough interesting characterization in the protagonist to create meaningful, even if not intense, stakes, but the limited development of the rest of the story puts a ceiling on the potential for excitement.
Kim Yoonsuk plays Jo Pilsung, a rural cop who is broke and constantly harassed by his wife, consequently friendly with the seedy elements of town in order to make a few more won for his beleaguered family. One day, he has some insider information on a bullfight and steals his wife's (Kyun Miri) saved money, winning big. However, notorious fugitive and superior martial artist, Song Kitae (Jung Kyungho), happens across the money and steals it. This gets him fired from the force and in desperate need to catch Song before the police in order to get his money back, get his job back, get out of the doghouse with his irate wife, and get his dignity back too.
If it weren't for the complex and trampled on character of Jo, this film might have ended up a rather simplistic cops and robbers affair, and although the competition and conflict between the rural police and the national police is interesting, that might not have been enough to make this film particularly interesting. And so, having Jo be so troubled as to lose his job and find himself with a desperate and personal need to capture Song himself helps drive the film to its conclusion. That's not to say it doesn't go a little overboard at times, nor does the film ever really heighten the tension to the level of better thrillers due to the limited stakes, but the story, modest as it is, mostly works fine.
Similarly, the direction from Lee Yeonwoo, his second feature, is likewise modest and, while it serves the story, doesn't do a lot of enhance or hone the thrills. On the otherhand, the light touch also gives Kim a lot of room to develop his character and that helps the film. On the other hand, the action sequences aren't particularly captivating, merely being adequate, which is about right for the bumbling fights, but that does mean the end fight doesn't convince quite as well as I'd like, especially when compounded by the sudden plot-induced weakness of the villain.
Running Turtle isn't exactly the film that will leave a huge mark in Korean cinema history, which already has a glut of thrillers, but its modest story and direction are helped by a strong pathos-capturing performance from its lead and the characterization necessarily to help drive the story to its limited potential. And that it reaches that potential still makes the film one that will possibly be interesting to fans of cops and robbers films, but you certainly can't go into it expecting anything more than a modest thriller. 7/10.