Irony is a great tool for creating an intriguing drama, and "Running Turtle (Geobugi dalinda)" is, if anything, an ironic film title that may well catch the attention of moviegoers with fond memories of a race between a rabbit and a turtle.
Substitute the turtle with a foul-mouthed Korean detective, and throw in a rabbit in the form of a sleek, cool-looking swindler on the run and one could expect an incredibly predictable plot. The rabbit would waste away time, overconfident of its running talent while the turtle wins the race.
Fortunately for moviegoers, such expectations are not met, not least because director Lee Yun-woo unfolds the predictable subject matter in a refreshing, even innovative, fashion.
One interesting irony is that while the hardworking and humble turtle never stops moving ahead, there is no passage hinting at the possibility that it might have run, even for a couple of seconds, in the original story.
In contrast, in "Running Turtle," Pil-seong (played by award-winning Kim Yoon-seok), is a metaphorical turtle who rarely stops running around. However, it constantly slips and stumbles, a sorry yet amusing byproduct of the character`s attempt to stay ahead in the uphill battle.
The abrasive battle starts with a bull fighting tournament in a rural village, where Pil-seong, a mildly corrupt detective, steals 3 million won from his wife and bets the precious money on a second-rated bull, leading to a surprise windfall that turns out to be a curse in disguise.
A series of painful setbacks await Pil-seong as Gi-tae (Chung Kyung-ho) swoops in on the small town and gets entangled with the detective with too much easy money in his not-so-clean hands overnight. The initial showdown between the two characters results in a humiliating defeat for Pil-seong, who loses his money and becomes a laughing stock.
From this point on, a real race is on. Pil-seong is now fully devoted to hunting down the notorious criminal, partly to settle a score with Gi-tae and partly to get his job back.
Kim Yoon-seok, who showcased his talent in "The Chaser" (2008), brings to life a slightly flawed and yet highly believable character on the big screen. What motivates Pil-seong is anybody`s guess. Perhaps lost money in consideration of his poor financial situation, or irreparably damaged pride as a law-enforcement officer. What`s certain, however, is Pil-seong`s unrelenting spirit, a spirit to run in the face of a sharp-edged blade, public condemnation and disillusionment from his loved ones.
Kim`s performance, in particular, reveals the pathos that might have been latent in many Korean fathers who work hard, or even run a lot, only to get little acknowledgement from their peers in the workplace or their family members at home.
A melodramatic detail about Pil-seong`s wife -- an underwear with some holes -- is equally revealing in an ironic way.
Gi-tae might come off as an overwrought villain who seems too handsome and too romantic. But this rough dramatization of the anti-hero is inevitable because the camera is too busy capturing the endless emotions flowing out of Pil-seong`s bruised face as the tension gets heightened.
The question is whether plot twists are creative enough to impress mainstream viewers in a story whose conclusion is fairly predictable from the start. In this regard, director Lee manages to steer the film in an optimal track, interspersing humor and surprises throughout the 177-minute running time.
"Running Turtle" will hit local theaters on June 11.
By Yang Sung-jin