Countdown (2011) ☆☆☆(3/4) : It’s not easy to get her liver

 It seems serious at first with the matter of life and death, but “Countdown” is an enjoyable action thriller funnier than I had expected. Above all, it has the terrific comic performance from Jeon Do-yeon, one of the most talented South Korean actresses, and she is really having a ball in this film. We know she is a beautiful actress, but, this time, she is so beautifully sly that we come to believe she can get away with anything. As a matter of fact, it is so entertaining to watch her performance that it is really shame that the plot drags her into the awkward melodrama during the shaky third act – but that’s a minor complaint thanks to her, at least.

The movie is about the struggle of Tae Geon-ho(Jeong Jae-Young) for getting the liver from her character. Geon-ho is a ruthless debt collector working for some financial company. He is very good at finding people who do not pay the debt, and, whether it is a poor family with almost nothing to lose or a sleazy night club owner with goons, he shows no mercy or compromise while doing his jobs. It is not so surprising that no one has ever showed more excellent result than him in the company.

It can be said that the bright future is ahead of him, but, on one day, the unfortunate news strikes upon him; he has a liver cancer. He cannot believe it, but it is true and now he must have the liver transplant surgery within ten days. The problem is, he cannot find a suitable donor for him; he will be on the waiting list, but the time is not enough. His only family, his son, died several years ago.

 But he has a nice idea. When his son died, his organs were donated to several people, so it is logical to think that these recipients might be his potential donors. After several trials, he finds a suitable donor, and that donor is none other than Cha Ha-yeon played by Jeon Do-yeon. She got his son’s heart, but she is a devilish con artist serving her time in the jail since getting caught by the police. Luckily for Geon-ho, she is about to be released from the jail, and she demands Geon-ho to do something for her in exchange for her liver. She asks him to find Jo Myeong-seok(Lee Kyeong-yeong), the man responsible for her imprisonment.

Myeong-seok turns out to be a big time con artist who has managed to elude the investigation of the police, so Geon-ho gets some help from the others to search for him. While following Geon-ho, we see some amusing sights in the world of con artists. One funny scene features the pyramid scam involved with a bizarre chair seen to be believed. You will wonder who will buy such a weird thing, but, with the trial performance on the stage, everyone in the room seems to buy what a con artist explains to them.

It takes some time, but Geon-ho locates Myeong-seok, and he gives the information to Ha-yeon. However, things do not progress as smoothly as he wants. He soon finds that it may be easy to give something to Ha-yeon but it is definitely not so easy to get something from her. She slips away as soon as she gets out of the jail, and now he has to find her till the operation day. Plus, Geon-ho is not the only person who wants to catch her. Besides Myeong-seok, who becomes enraged after realizing that Ha-yeon ruins his recent scheme as her payback, there is also a Korean Chinese gang leader(Oh Man-seok) who wants to settle an old score with her. Furthermore, Geon-ho’s health is deteriorating day by day.

 With this familiar action thriller formula, the first-time director Heo Jeong-ho skillfully made a competent film with several exciting moments. The car chase sequence on the marker alleys is well-handled; though it is not so speedy, the movie effectively utilizes the narrow alleys to create kinetic excitement. Personally, I like a cutthroat way Geon-ho solves his trouble when his car is stuck in the cul-de-sac along with the car chasing after him and Ha-yeon their behind.

As the most interesting character in the movie, Jeon Do-yeon has many delightful moments. After several serious acting jobs in “Secret Sunshine”(2007) and “The Housemaid”(2010), it is refreshing to see her lightly gliding around the screen.. While everyone else in the movie is trying to get her character by any means necessary, she is usually one or two steps ahead of them, and it is quite a fun to watch her to manipulate or fool others with her impish but ingratiating attitude. Even without the flashback showing her past, you can easily see that she is an expert who can swindle money out of you even after admitting to you that she is fooling you. But you cannot help but like her, as long as she does not take your saving account from you.

I was very disappointed with his stiff performance in “Moss”(2010), and it is good to see Jeong Jae-Young back in his element again. He is basically a foil with no-nonsense for Jeon Do-yeon’s care-free character, but he is a very good one for his co-actress. He is one of the rare South Korean actors who can almost perfectly deliver the humorous lines without a wink to us, and I had some good laughs with the audiences while he was acting with utmost seriousness as the man desperately chasing after his only chance to survive. None the less, catching Ha-yeon is indeed a serious matter to Geon-ho, and Jeong Jae-Youn manages to make us identify with him a little despite his callous, taciturn attitude.

By the way, I am not so certain about whether it was really necessary for the movie to drive the characters into the melodramatic third act. I do not think that works well. Though this direction does not entirely ruin the whole show, I don’t think Ha-yeon and Geon-ho deserve that. They become less entertaining characters when their respective private lives are revealed to us, and the pace becomes a lot slower than before with a fairly predictable ending waiting for them, and the ending is too sentimental compared to the rest of the movie. But, what the heck, when a beautiful actress like Jeon Do-yeon is having a big fun while dazzling us, we can forgive lots of flaws like that.

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