Director: Park Hoon-jung
Release: 21 October 2017 (London East Asia Film Festival)
From: Warner Bros.
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: 18
No one can touch Kim Gwang-il (Lee Jong-suk). A V.I.P in North Korea thanks to his father’s status in the government, Gwang-il is convinced that he’s untouchable and can get away with anything, including murder. Leaving a trail of mutilated female corpses in his wake, no one seems willing or even able to stop him from his inexorable bloodlust. It’s only when he defects to the South and decides to commit his crimes there that the authorities decide that enough is enough — well, one of them at least.
Yi-dong (Kim Myung-min), a bad-tempered detective with a cigarette perpetually hanging from his mouth, is determined to catch the killer and when all evidence points at Gwang-il it seems like he’s got the arrest in the bag. However, unbeknownst to him, the National Intelligence Service is equally as resolute about keeping him out of police hands, and agent Jae-hyuk (Jang Dong-gun) steps up to make sure this happens so that he can hand him over to the CIA instead. In the meantime, North Korean officer Dae-bum (Park Hee-son) enters the South to catch the killer once and for all. Sound confusing yet? That’s because it is.
The problem with V.I.P is the way it approaches the authorities, how Gwang-il moves from one to another, and their inability to stop him even once. Seriously, even in police custody he’s freely able to attack women. You’d think they would have realised it was a bad idea to leave a man like him in a room alone with a woman, but apparently not. There was some potential for the narrative of this hard-boiled drama to work, especially since American God’s star Peter Stormare leads the CIA team and the idea that these different authorities desperately step over each other to catch Gwang-il was interesting at the offset. The story is so packed with incompetence and bad English, though, that it’s frustrating and eventually you give up and wish someone would just get it over with.
It’s the violence that’s the hardest part to witness, though. In an early scene we are introduced to Gwang-il’s brutality where we see a woman sprawled naked and beaten on a table with a group of his goons emotionally torturing her with the death of her family. The verbal abuse is uncomfortable to see, but it’s when Gwang-il turns up to finish off the North Korean girl that you really can’t look at the screen. In a gratuitously long sequence we are shown her last moments, and, in a film where women are barely even acknowledged in the first place, this scene just seems unnecessarily violent.
While the narrative is a convoluted mess, it’s the cast, particularly Lee Jong-suk, who are able to keep VIP at least a little bit intriguing. Known for his roles as the romantic lead in hit dramas like Pinocchio, W, and While you were Sleeping, he’s the last person you’d expect to play a psychopathic killer. But, it’s the fact that he’s an unexpected choice that makes his performance all the more impressive. With his smug smile and cold stare he does a good job of making you hate him, and his increasingly aggressive interactions with Kim Myung-min are enjoyable. His character is most certainly a stereotype with his edgy fashion sense, sophistication, and love of Russian literature and classic music, but he’s also one of the best things about Park Hoon-jung’s brutal thriller. If only there was more to like.
Review by Roxy Simons