Major film festivals, such as TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) are an interesting thing, as two different people can have vastly different experiences, depending on what they want out of the festival. Some people try to get the hot ticket, while others try to find that hidden gem.
I tend to be part of the latter category, but Veteran is a peculiar pick for me, in that it has already become a phenomenon in its home country of South Korea. Directed by action auteur Ryoo Seung-wan, I wanted to know what the fuss was about, and catch it before it gets a limited release in September here in North America.
The film centers around detective Seo Do-chul (Hwang Jung-min), who, along with his partners, bring down an international car smuggling ring. He befriends truck driver Bae (Jung Woong-in), who helps out with the bust, but is eventually put into a coma after an altercation with his super-rich employer, who laid him off for joining a union.
What follows is a solid, light-hearted action comedy which infuses slapstick with some good fight choreography. Yoo Ah-in, who plays the antagonist Tae-oh, revels in absurdly over-the-top cartoonish villain material, but in a way you love to hate him. His character has no redeeming value at all, and you spend the film waiting for him to get his due.
Where Tae-oh is wonderfully villainous, Seo is the kind of protagonist you want to root for. Everyone in the film is excellent, right down to the Russian mafia bit players, and they are all given their chance to shine.
This is a film that never takes itself too seriously... There’s an instance where a Russian mob member is trying to run away on foot while the police captain drives along side him in a van offering water, handcuffs and a ride, to the panting mob member. And it works, he gets into the van of his own volition. There’s also a scene between Seo and his bosses, which is taken right out of Jaws, as the three of them compare battle wounds.
The action set pieces are well done, but not overly ambitious, and the narrative doesn’t offer any surprises either. While the humor and performances keep it from becoming too generic, it never really escapes becoming a straight up action film. Very enjoyable, but it leaves wanting something more.