Going by the Book thankfully goes against the grain to make a decent, if forgettable action comedy
“I still need to see your license.”
These words are spoken by Jung Do-man (Jung Jae-young), a traffic cop who’s known to stick too much to the rules as he pulls over new boss – newly instated chief Lee Seung-man – and issues him a ticket. Do-man’s a good cop, too good in fact, but this is precisely what makes the chief notice him. Lee has transferred to help take care of a recent string of bank robberies in town, but he has a plan.
Lee sees that the police are currently seen in a negative light due to these robberies, and decides to reassure the public by carrying out a robbery drill. To make things realistic the police won’t know when this will happen, and it will for all intents and purposes be treated as a real robbery. Lee chooses Do-man as the robber, but ever the perfectionist, Do-man plans the perfect crime.
This’ll be a short one, mainly because there isn’t really that much to talk about. Going by the Book’s best feature is its simplicity. It doesn’t try to tell a crazy, twisty-turny story. It’s a simple heist with a bit of flavour added. There are plenty of similar crime films, but by having the primary antagonist also be the protagonist gives us a variation on a theme we’ve not seen yet. This paves the way for a host of funny jokes that would, in more serious crime films, be tragic moments. For example, a mouthy hostage could easily become like Ellis in Die Hard, but in this they’re simply told to lie down, with a piece of paper saying ‘dead’ taped to them.
The set-up and first half are the better parts of the film, allowing for a lot of dark humour without going too far over the top. As it progresses and SWAT teams are called in, the story and humour get increasingly dark with Do-man almost suffocating an entire police team by locking them in a vault. Add the desperation of the police chief who is looking ever more foolish in the news, and it starts to become difficult to know who to root for. Do-man is a fun character – if not always likeable – and Jung Jae-young has a natural charisma to his performance. There aren’t a tonne of interesting secondary characters. A few come to mind, but off the top of my head I don’t remember their names. The chief is entertaining, as is … that woman he talks to. It’s hard to remember who everyone is.
Going by the Book is fine, and funny in places when you’re watching it but doesn’t leave a lasting impression. There isn’t anything that really stands out and that you’ll be chuckling to yourself about later, and that’s really its biggest problem. Jang Jin is a talented writer but his script seems almost designed to be forgettable, and it’s a shame because Going by the Book has a really interesting premise, which could have resulted in a really outrageous and memorable comedy. Of course, the problem with a premise like this is that the story almost falls apart because of it.
Throughout, there are attempts to make things seem dramatic but we’re always reminded at every turn that there are zero stakes at play here. No one is in any danger and there isn’t really much pushing the plot forward outside of the stubbornness of two men. There’s a lot of potential here, but the execution isn’t entirely up to par. It’s dull as often as it is clever, funny as often as it is uncomfortable. Going by the Book definitely doesn’t go by the book, but maybe it should have.
Verdict: The set-up is enjoyable, but ultimately it falters too much to be as good as it could have been
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Violence: 2/10 for simulated bank robbery violence
Sex: Weird rape joke/10
Disbelief: Highly suspended
Recommended: Just about. There are better films
Going by the Book (2007)
Also known as: 바르게 살자; Bareuge Saljat
Director: Ra Hee-chan
Writer: Jang Jin, Lee Gyu-bok
Jung Jae-young … Jung Do-man
Son Byung-ho … Lee Seung-man
Uhm Soo-jung … Han So-young
Lee Young-eun … Jeon Da-hye
Ko Chang-seok … Woo Jong-dae
Lee Cheol-min … Jo Seong-wook
Shin Goo … Do-man’s father
Lee Yong-yi … Do-man’s mother
Im Ji-eun … Kim Sung-mi
Joo Jin-mo … bank branch manager
Lee Han-wi … police force team leader
Kim Kyu-chul … senior Kim
Jo Shi-nae … Miss Lee