I watched South Korean thriller film “Inside Men” with bitter amusement on some of its darkest moments. Although it is a work of fiction as emphasized in its end credits, its dark, uncomfortable picture of power and corruption is not so far from the real ugly sides of the South Korean society, and it is often horrifyingly amusing to watch the cynical and ruthless depravities of the most rotten characters in the film. They all together in their power and corruption, and nothing seems to stop their reach for more power over the South Korean society, as they are served by others willing to do anything for what they will get.
In the prologue scene, we meet Ahn Sang-goo (Lee Byung-hun), a gang boss who once worked for some of the most powerful men in South Korea. While surrendering himself to the prosecution, he exposes their corruption right in front of a bunch of journalists, but the people denounced by him do not seem to worry much about that as Sang-goo’s disclosure becomes a new hot focus of the media. It is a big trouble indeed, but it looks like they still can pull some strings for getting away with it.
The movie goes back to two years ago to show how everything started, and another important character is introduced into the story. Woo Jang-hoon (Jo Seung-woo) is a young ambitious prosecutor, and he has been frustrated with his career going nowhere due to the lack of any helpful social connections, which are always very, very important for your life and career in South Korea. So he is hoping for a possible breakthrough to boost his position, and that is why he has been investigating the shady connection between the chairman of a very powerful conglomerate and Jang Pil-wo (Lee Kyeong-yeong), a prominent congressman of the governing party who is probably going to be the next president of South Korea.
As Jang-hoon tries to acquire an incriminating financial document for his case, the movie shows us how things work through the intricate connections surrounding his targets. Lee Kang-hee (Baek Yoon-sik), the editorial columnist of a very influential conservative paper, is another close associate of the chairman, and he can write anything to swing the public opinion for the chairman or their current favorite politician, who will surely pay them back once he is chosen as the presidential candidate of his party and then wins the election later. Henry Kissinger once said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and these despicable guys proves that quite well as they are drunk with their booze and power at the chairman’s private place where a group of beautiful girls are ready to do whatever they desire.
Sang-goo has been the one usually handling any dirty or bloody business for them below. After snatching away the very evidence Jang-hoon wants to get, he gets an idea about what to do with it. He wants to go up from his present position, so he makes a copy of that evidence for his own benefit, but, unfortunately, that turns out to be a very serious mistake considering how mighty the guys above him are – and how merciless they are if they decide someone must be taken care of (one particular moment inside some warehouse will definitely make you cringe for a good reason).
And that is just the beginning, and the screenplay by the director Woo Min-ho, which is based on the Internet graphic novel by Yoon Tae-ho, throws many more things in its busy plot as Sang-goo and Jang-hoon are approaching to their eventual converging point. Now stuck in the bottom two years later, Sang-goo is looking for any chance of revenge on the people behind his misery, and Jang-hoon, who has been watching on Sang-goo, senses that something is going on behind Sang-goo’s back. Especially after his career happens to be struck hard by one shocking incident in the middle of his ongoing investigation, Jang-hoon sees that Sang-goo may be the only chance for him, and the same thing can be said about Sang-goo, who becomes more cornered than expected as his own plan goes awry and eventually depends on Jang-hoon.
The rest of the story becomes predictable as it goes through familiar moments of ups and downs besides a number of implausible scenes to test your suspension of disbelief, but the movie keeps us entertained although it loses its pace at times during its middle part. Its finale may be a little too unrealistic, but it works as a satisfying ending anyway, and I enjoyed it even though I recognized its improbable aspects.
Many of the characters in the film are not very likable for their abrasive or impertinent male personalities, so we frequently watch their seedy conflicts from the distance, but the main cast members give performances strong enough to hold our interest on the story itself. While Lee Byung-hun and Jo Seung-woo play well against each other as two different characters who come to stick together for their common goal, Baek Yoon-sik and Lee Kyeong-yeong play their slimy characters with gusto. Kim Hong-pa is arrogant and malicious as a man at the top of almost everything in the South Korean society, and the other supporting actors including Jo Jae-yoon, Bae Seong-woo, Kim Dae-myeong, and Jeong Man-ski are suitably cast as the characters who compromise with their corrupt system in each own way. Lee El is under-utilized as the sole substantial female character in the film, and this is a shame considering that it could be really nice to have a female perspective on the boys’ dirty rotten fight.
Although I had some difficulty in following its busy plot and various characters, but “Inside Men” compensates for its weak points through its thrilling moments powered by solid performances. I know too well that the reality darkly reflected in the film will not be changed so easily like that, but the movie is an entertaining stuff with some biting points, and it is not a bad thing to enjoy a fantasy at least for a while.