January 3, 2015

Running Turtle: How Far Would You Go for Daddy's Little Girl?

I could make a list of all the things that made Lee Yeon-woo's 2009 blockbuster Running Turtle so enjoyable for me...and so I will.

1. It's got an incredibly likeable if beleaguered Everyman as its hero: One police officer Jo Pil-song (Kim Yun-seok) who can't win, even when he wins. Kim's perfected this type of role in movies like Punch and The Chaser. He's like an understated Song Kang-ho.

2. It's got an almost equally likeable but dangerous martial artist/escaped convict as its villain: The sadistic yet romantic Song Gi-tae (Jung Kyung Ho) whose hard to hate because he's so true to his girl (Seon Woo-seon). But don't worry. You'll hate him eventually.

3. It's got a handful of quirky secondary characters: the frizzy-haired wannabe bad boy Pyo Jae-seok (Choi Kwon) who's got a tattoo on his back just like Gi-tae but less in his brains, and a goofy martial arts instructor who's equally slow intellectually but more adept physically.

4. It's got a father-daughter relationship that shows depths of devotion without ever resorting to a rescue scene featuring a kidnapped child (Kim Ji-na). There are big stakes here but they don't necessitate seeing a kid screaming for help! (Only characters 18+ should have fingers sliced off!)

5. It's got a great ending.

I have repeatedly noted that one of the reasons that Korean crime pics tend to play more engagingly then their American counterparts is that because they rarely degenerate into preposterous shootouts in which one side has good aim and one side does not. The two guns that come into play most decisively in Running Turtle are a pepper spray guy and one that shoots rubber bullets. With no snipers in site, the action always feels like it's a battle of wills instead of ammunition. Consider this another reason for stricter gun control laws: Better movies!

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