THE CHILDE (귀공자) (2023)

Genre: Action
Director: Park Hoon-Jung
Cast: Kim Seon-Ho, Kang Tae-Joo, Kim Kang-Woo, Go Ara, Kwon Hyuk-hyun
Runtime: 1 hr 58 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 28 June 2023

Synopsis: The story follows Marco, a boxer with a complicated past. He is of mixed descent, with a Korean father and a Filipino mother, and has been wandering around illegal stadiums in the Philippines. He lives with his sick mother in the Philippines. One day, Marco decides to travel to Korea in search of his estranged father, to pay for his mother's surgery. Upon his arrival in Korea, Marco quickly discovers that he is being relentlessly pursued by a dangerous group of individuals for reasons unknown. Among his pursuers is a mysterious and unidentified man known as the "nobleman," who creates chaos and severely restricts Marco's movements. In addition to the nobleman, Marco is also being pursued by Han Yi-sa, a wealthy heir who seeks to claim his father's vast fortune, and Yoon-ju, a mysterious woman whom Marco unexpectedly reunites with in Korea. Marco finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of unpredictability and madness. Amid this chaos, Marco is forced to confront a shocking truth that will change everything he thought he knew about his past and present. 

Movie Review:

A decade after one of the most-loved Korean noir crime thriller ‘New World’, writer-director Park Hoon-jung returns to the genre with ‘The Childe’. As solid as it is, those expecting a similarly intriguing tussle between warring factions looking to seize control of a powerful criminal syndicate will find themselves underwhelmed by this relatively simplistic tale with an analogous construct.

Instead of Lee Jung-jae’s undercover police officer, the lead protagonist who finds himself caught in the crossfire here is amateur boxer of mixed Korean and Filipino descent named Marco (Kang Tae-joo). Derogatorily called a ‘Kopino’, Marco is seeking his Korean father to help pay for his Filipino mother’s medical procedure. That search becomes even more urgent when he falls for a local thug’s scam and finds himself pursued by a group of gangsters who want to get back at him for knocking out a formidable Thai boxer in an illegal match that they had bet on.

To his surprise, Marco gets a visit from a snotty attorney Kang who claims to be acting for his dying father. Kang convinces Marco that his father has even less time left than his mother, and that he needs to get on a plane to Korea to see his father immediately. Whilst on the flight, Marco is accosted by a mysterious ‘nobleman’ (Kim Seon-ho) who says he is a friend (or ‘chingu’ in Korean). Besides advising Marco to speak English with an American accent (because Koreans f**king love it), the said ‘nobleman’ tells Marco that the reason why he is going to Korea is to die.

Meanwhile, the story also acquaints us with Han Yi-sa (Kim Kang-woo), the heir apparent to the Hokyung Foundation given its Chairman’s ailing condition. There is a whole subplot dedicated to establishing just how despicable Yi-sa is, as he gets his goons to kidnap a former high-ranking employee of the foundation and the publisher of an Internet website who were in cahoots to besmirch the reputation of the foundation by publishing an article about its slush funds, the former of which Yi-sa shoots dead after taunting him to try to save his life by running zig-zag across a patch of open field towards a forest of cedar trees and the latter of which Yi-sa barely bats an eyelid blasting him with a shotgun at close range.

Given how Kang is acting on Yi-sa’s orders, it is clear Marco’s fate is doomed. Thankfully, the ‘nobleman’ steps in to run the car carrying Marco to his imminent death off the road, killing Kang’s men shortly after and freeing Marco from their grasp. For reasons frustratingly unbeknownst to us, the ‘nobleman’ refuses to make his intentions clear to Marco; instead, he and Marco engage in an ultimately pointless foot chase that goes on interminably from a mountain road to an interstate highway to a tunnel and lastly to a town in the suburbs.

Besides the ‘nobleman’, Marco also finds himself targeted by Yoon-ju (Go Ara), who ‘saves’ him from the ‘nobleman’ after that incessant chase. It is Yoon-ju who will enlighten Marco what Yi-sa wants with him, and who will eventually try to kill Marco for her own agenda. Indeed, the second act feels that the narrative is just spinning its wheels, what with Kang, the ‘nobleman’, Yoon-ju and Yi-sa taking turns to try to capture an utterly clueless and defenceless Marco. We’re not sure why Marco literally doesn’t pull any punches throughout this entire section, especially given how he would presumably have had a fighter’s instincts from his times in the boxing ring.

To be fair to Park, who pulls both scripting and directing duties here, the third act proves a lot more engaging. The standoff between the ‘nobleman’ and Yi-sa is wickedly funny, and the subsequent fight between the ‘nobleman’ and Yi-sa henchmen (we counted about 30 of them) is brutal, intense and visceral. What remains inexplicable is why Marco would not even fight to defend his own life, though it is also clear by that time that despite starting out from his perspective, Marco is but a supporting act in the entire movie, a hunch which the twist at the end will further confirm.

Oh yes, the real star of the show is the ‘nobleman’ (and not the ‘childe’ as the title says), and therefore its actor Kim Seon-ho. Park has made it no secret that he wanted Kim in the role as the ‘nobleman’ from the start; and to Kim’s credit, the star of the hit rom-com series ‘Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha’ does play convincingly against type as a cold-blooded killer with a twisted sense of humour and own moral compass. Still, both his character and Marco are let down by Park’s scripting, which needs a lot more definition to make their roles compelling.

As a crime thriller, ‘The Childe’ is still as slick as the best of its Korean predecessors; what it lacks though is depth. Indeed, when the movie finally reveals the identities and motivations of the various characters, you cannot help but feel disappointed that there isn’t more to it, or shake off the distinct feeling that much of the ambiguity was only there to disguise the fact that the story was that thin. Like we said, this isn’t ‘New World’, and for that reason, we suspect those – like us – who were anticipating a similarly gripping tale of greed, power and betrayal will find ‘The Childe’ a tad too child-ish.

Movie Rating:

(Not quite the compelling crime noir many would be expecting, 'The Childe', though slick, lacks depth in plot and character and ends up spinning wheels for too long)

Review by Gabriel Chong 

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