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An Officer’s Dilemma With Corruption

Good cop, bad cop: This concept seems to be bleeding across borders, whether unfolding in reality or fictional narratives. For many, police states may seem like a staple in society, something entire generations may only know for the entirety of not only their lives but their parents’ lifetimes as well. But for others, the police are meant and do exist as a force of good, something that was built and intended to keep up the walls of everyday life and keep the notion of justice alive. What happens in these systems when a cop goes rogue? What does justice mean when these notions of power and corruption are interpreted solely by the ones meant to uphold them?


Fresh out of Korea is The Policeman’s Lineagea crime drama starring Choi Woo-sik (Parasite, Train to Busan) and Cho Jin-woong (The Handmaiden). Released domestically in South Korea on January 5, 2022, the movie is currently one of the highest-grossing of the year, marking it as an anticipated release for when it hits the international film market. The movie is based on a Japanese novel titled Blood of the Policeman, which was written by Joh Sasaki, a well-known entertainment writer and mystery novelist in Japan. Although he is well-published and an award-winning writer in his home country, very few of his works have been translated into English. The Policeman’s Lineage is directed by Lee Kyoo-man. Other cast members include Park Hee-soon (My names), Myung-hoon Park (Parasite), and Kwon Yul (The King: Eternal Monarch).

A Rookie Police Officer Discovers the Dark Side of the Job

In South Korea, the crime rate is relatively low compared to other industrialized countries, making it one of the safest places to live in the world. That does not stop the entertainment industry, though, and some of the thrillers and crime dramas coming out of the peninsula country, whether it is a movie like Parasite or a television series like My names, have been creative, entertaining, and innovative in their approach to the genre. And perhaps there is a good reason for that despite the low levels of crime: corruption has been consistently exposed in the public service sector. From the top—President Park Geun-hye was impeached due to this — to everyday police officersthis is an ongoing issue that does not have an easy solution in sight.

The movie opens up with a classic moment in a crime drama: a chase through the streets of a city. Here the city is unidentified, lit in sepia orange and faded brown tones. A man lies on the ground, bloody and arms sprawled, as another man looks in shock at a supposed perpetrator running away from the crime scene. However, nothing can be done, as a train car emerges, separating the perpetrator from anyone else who may have witnessed the crime he might have committed. This opening shot establishes a stark depiction of a Korean underbelly, one in which crime exists in the moody dark and that it seems almost too easy for the suspect to slip away in plain sight.

In a world where the sun is high in the sky, new rookie police officer Choi Min-jae (Choi Woo-sik) is a man of the law. A stickler for the rules and who made them, he performs his duties diligently. Even when in court and asked if his coworker forced an arrest, a clear violation of the law, he honestly affirms this and sells out his comrade. His personality type makes him the ideal worker to pull off an internal investigation in the police force: the chief of a serious crimes unit, Park Gang-yoon (Cho Jin-woong), is under scrutiny for his arrest records and possible embezzlement of funds . Choi first denies the opportunity, calling it dishonorable, but then he is offered something he cannot refuse: potential information clarifying his father’s death. As it turns out, his father was a police officer killed on duty.

Related: Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area: Everything We Know So Far

Who Really Is a Good Guy?

Now, this may offer a compelling storyline if the viewer was given more information about who Choi Min-jae was and why he represented honor and justice in the way he did. The characters lack backstories, forcing them to live solely within the moments on the screen, and this development backfires as the script and story progress. The Policeman’s Lineage is about how when Choi enters this mission to essentially spy on Park, his morals and attitudes about what is right and wrong begin to shift away from what he originally thought. That makes this a series of moral questions about honor, justice, and who is correct about dictating what the codes encompassing all of this should be.

The deeper he falls into Gang-yoon’s world and methods of doing things, he enters deeper into the murky areas questioning the ethics of being an officer. In a way, he entered this world naïve, which may be surprising considering his father was a deceased police officer, thus he pays the price for being so unaware of how things actually work in this system. But was he a victim of it or willingly partaking in it? The movie does not offer much on that. As the characters descend into the age-old archetypes of the genre, it seems the movie does not want to go into that territory in the future.

The movie enters the gray areas between this, asking the hard questions but not offering anything outside of them. Its message becomes fairly obvious when Choi enters the unit and realizes Gang-yoon’s philosophy is to do whatever it takes to get evidence and the investigation finished. However, this is muddled by subplots and redundant information. In these moments, the movie began to drag, allowing it the chance to lose focus and get lost in the grander scheme of things.

As the pace begins to pick up and a new, somewhat stereotypical villain emerges on the horizon, it seems better to keep this plot straightforward than tangle the web even more. But the movie does so, adding twists and more plotlines to try and keep it seeming fresh in the viewer’s mind. This tactic ultimately backfires as Min-jae desperately continues his search for evidence to incriminate Gang-yoon, only to fall up majorly short of his expectations. At the end of the day, he simply is caught in a power struggle of men in higher positions than him, leaving Min-jae’s perspective of the world jaded.

Related: Broker Receives 12-Minute Standing Ovation at Cannes, Longest Ever for a Korean Film

A Solid Acting Effort

The cast of The Policeman’s Lineage provides the glue that keeps the momentum moving forward. Each cast member is a seasoned actor from the Korean drama and movie world, many of whom have starred in thrillers and crime shows before. Choi, previously seen in movies like Train to Busan and Parasiteis fresh off his run in a popular drama titled Our Beloved Summer. Cho Jin-woong, however, is a prolific actor in Korean entertainment and is well-known for detective and villain roles in both television and film. This kind of work is nothing new to the actors, but they are capable of making their characters seem fresh, even if they are archetypes of people viewers may have seen before. They have done the best job with the script given to them, even with its flaws.

Perhaps The Policeman’s Lineage would have worked better as a television pilot than a feature film. Scattered throughout the movie are numerous scenes of exposition, exposing the link between Gang-yoon and Min-jae that existed before the two ever even met. The movie runs for almost two hours, but with the lack of character development, it seems like it could have gone for much longer to feel properly fleshed out. A more astute viewer may spot some plotholes as well, making the sequence of events even more confusing to figure out in the long run.

Although The Policeman’s Lineage was a decent effort, its strengths lie in the acting and the stylistic elements that went into some scenes, such as the drug lab raid. It’s hard nowadays to make fairly original police or crime drama, and while some of the characters were underdeveloped, the right idea was there for the movie as a whole. It, unfortunately, fails to distinguish itself from other crime dramas by the end of the movie, falling into old habits and tropes that plague the genre. That does not make The Policeman’s Lineage a bad or mediocre film by no means at all – those who like similar types of movies may find this one an enjoyable watch.

The Policeman’s Lineage is out on June 7, 2022.

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