Director: Chung Ji-young
Cast: Sol Kyung-gu, Jin Kyung, Yoo Jun-sang, Heo Sung-tae, Yeom Hye-ran
Runtime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Drug Use and Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 23 November 2023
Synopsis: Year 1999, a murder case occurred at Nara-Supermarket where three burglars murdered an old lady and threatened her daughter, Yoon Mi-sook. The detective in charge, Choi Woo-sung, arrested three teenagers who live nearby and closed the case. However, Director Hwang received a report that the actual criminals were not arrested. He tried to exonerate the falsely accused suspects but to no avail. 15 years later, the three suspects and Yoon Mi-sook came to Director Hwang asking for help with a retrial...
The premise of this movie is based on a true story that took place in South Korea’s Wanju Country in 1999. Three robbers broke into a local supermarket in the middle of the night to steal money, and the incident ended on a tragic note with an elderly woman choking to death on duct tape. The local police was fast to take action and it wasn’t long before they identified three boys as the culprits of the crime. But is the truth what it appears to be? This movie asks the question of whether there is something shady behind the criminal justice system.
It turns out that director Chung Ji-young is no stranger to exploring controversial topics in his works. He made Unbowed (2011) to criticise the corruption in the judicial system, and also National Security (2012) which dramatised the a politically sensitive true life story of a democracy activist who was kidnapped and tortured in the National Police Headquarters. The 77 year old filmmaker has been vocally against direct distribution of foreign movies in his home country, and has voiced his opinion against the signing of the free trade agreement between South Korea and the United States.
In comparison, Chung’s latest work seems safe and probably won’t cause too much of a stir. Besides depicting a story where the authorities may have abused their power, the movie is essentially a human drama. The three boys who were convicted of the crime aren’t high flyers (one of them is slightly intellectually challenged), and the sympathetic story quickly reveals that there were coerced into admitting that they were responsible for the terrible incident. They were promptly put in a jail, and the police was lauded for their work. Soon, another man comes along and confessed that he committed the crime with two other men. What happens next is a series of attempts by Hwang Jun-cheol, a new police investigator in town (a terrific Sol Kyung-gu) to uncover the truth.
This story spans more than 15 years and is told through flashbacks. Although the boys have been released from prison, circumstances have resulted a possible retrial. When Hwang learns about this, he goes all the way out to make sure that the boys innocence is proven this time.
Hwang is captivatingly played by Sol, and the character has the personality of a bulldog. He pushes his way through to question the initial investigation’s credibility. Kudos to the actor for expressing the world weary side of the righteous investigator, and throwing him back on track to do what is right. There are scenes of him with the boys while they were kids in prison, and also with them when they have become teenagers after their release. These sequences are nicely played out, and you feel Hwang’s sheer determination to bring the truth to light. Yoo Jun-sang portrays the antagonist, while Jin Kyung plays the daughter of the deceased victim. Heo Sung-tae provides some comic relief Hwang’s colleague assisting in the investigation.
Even when the 124 movie turns into a melodrama towards the end when the court proceedings begin, you are engaged in the story and will cheer when the boys finally break their silence to shout: “We are not murderers!”
(Featuring a terrific Sol Kyung-gu, this engaging thriller is a reminder how power may be abused in the hands of those with authority)
Review by John Li