Film Review: The Suspect

South Korean agents chase a rogue defector who may be part of a conspiracy with the North in an overstuffed espionage adventure.

Borrowing liberally from the Bourne series, The Suspect adds Korean obsessions to a standard espionage narrative. Handsomely mounted, the movie looks just like other big-budget blockbusters at first. But it doesn't take long to realize that The Suspect is imitation entertainment.

When Park Gun-ho, the elderly chairman of the Hyejoo Group, is murdered, his chauffeur Ji Dong-chul (Gong Yoo) is the prime suspect. Ji sees that corrupt cops led by Kim Seok-ho (Cho Seong-ha) are responsible for the killing, but since the evidence points to him, he must go on the run.

Kim orders Col. Min Se-hun (Park Hee-soon) to find and kill Ji. Kim once faced Ji during an assignment in Hong Kong and lost, and as a result was demoted to training cadets in boot camp.

Also looking for Ji: Choi Kyung-hee, a filmmaker who has been making a documentary about defectors. Using Choi's files, Min learns that Ji's wife and daughter were betrayed and killed by another North Korean agent, Lee Gwang-jo (Kim Sung-kyun).

Ji had been hunting for Lee in his spare time; now, in the midst of a manhunt, Ji has to step up his search. But police keep closing in, leading to chases across rooftops, through shopping malls, and in crowded traffic.

Director Won Shin-yun, a former stuntman, stages the action sequences with flair but not much credibility. Many of the stunts are straight out of the Bourne playbook, complete with shaky, handheld camera. But Won's actors don't have the training to pull off kicks and punches, so their fights devolve into meaningless blurs.

The big action set-pieces tend to be too farfetched. At one point Ji uses his car like a bowling ball to scatter a police barricade, then drives away as if nothing happened.

Screenwriter Lim Sang-yun leans heavily on flashbacks to explain the story and characters, disrupting the movie's momentum. Otherwise, much of this looks like standard TV fare: agents manning phones while staring at banks of video monitors, sleek interrogation rooms with mirrors hiding observers, clues delivered on cellphones or the Internet.

Gong Yoo and Park Hee-soon are good at projecting macho stoicism, but have trouble bringing much personality to their roles. Yoo Da-in gets to shriek a lot during chases, but otherwise doesn't have much to do. You can spot the movie's several villains from the start.

The most interesting aspect of The Suspect is how easily Korean preoccupations fit into an espionage template. Reunification is the driving factor for most of the characters, and family concerns dominate motives. But the movie's few quirks and stabs at humor aren't enough to lift it out of the ordinary.