A detective goes too deep undercover in Oh Seung-uk’s romantic crime drama.
“Scar on top of scar. One bad memory after another. Life’s like that.”
One of my favourite tropes of film noir is that of the obsessed detective who’ll do anything for the truth, and whose journey into a twisted underbelly threatens to corrupt and torture him. It’s been a staple of the genre for decades, and still pops up to this day. The Shameless, a 2015 romantic crime drama from director Oh Seung-uk, gives us something of a variation on the theme, giving us a hard boiled, jaded cop who knows exactly what he’s doing, for better or worse.
This detective is Jung Jae-gon (Kim Nam-gil), who is on a stake out, looking for a man named Park Joon-gil, who was once an enforcer for a company called Jay Investment, and is wanted for murder. Jae-gon learns that Joon-gil embezzled money from the company and stole the heart of Kim Hye-kyung (Jeon Do-yeon), the girlfriend of the company’s vice president. When an arrest attempt puts Joon-gil on the run, Jae-gon decides to stick with Hye-kyung, posing as a new manager of the bar she is a hostess of. However, as things progress, Jae-gon begins to have feelings towards Hye-kyung, and – of course – disaster looms.
There are a lot of moving parts in The Shameless, from the opening murder, to the cops, and the way every character is connected. By the time the credits roll the audience has managed to connect all the dots, but the film’s biggest issue is probably in how long it takes to actually get going in connecting them. The first half an hour to forty minutes has a lot of set up but every scene – as engaging as they are by themselves – don’t seem to connect particularly well. This means that the audience isn’t hooked as quickly and it might become tricky to engage them afterwards. The production values and filmmaking however do a lot to keep the movie interesting during moments of set-up.
Thankfully, once the main plot gets underway, things start to focus up a lot more and the it becomes a lot easier to follow the two leads who have a very bizarre but strong chemistry. The actors play their discordant relationship excellently, imbuing enough tension in their scenes that we want to know where it’s going – that is before the inevitable tragedy that barrels towards them. What’s curious is that the focus starts to shift towards Hye-kyung mostly due to how sympathetic she is, at least compared to Jae-gon, whose tactics as a detective can leave a lot to be desired.
In fact this is a common attribute amongst many of the cops in the film who do anything short of murder to get people to talk. The Shameless exists in the same sort of world as Memories of Murder, where the police can just sort of do whatever they want and get away with it. I have no idea if this is reflective of the real world (something tells me it isn’t), but it does mean that Jae-gon doesn’t resonate as any sort of hero. He’s determined to catch this killer, but the price seems far too high.
And maybe that’s the point the film is trying to get across. There’s a strong theme of scars that runs along the entire movie, both as internal and external representations of the pain, sacrifices and choices the main characters have made. Jae-gon brushes away his myriad scars as “bad memories” he’d sooner forget, but it’s only right at the end of the film that we see the significance of them. His pain might have been self-inflicted, in a lot of ways, but it’s pain nonetheless.
The Shameless blends highbrow arthouse cinema and blockbuster crime thriller elements to make something fairly unique and reminiscent of similar films from Hong Kong, although it does run the risk of alienating both audiences. It’s a dark look at the lengths people will go for what they need the most: money, answers, love. It might have some pacing issues but it ultimately comes together to make a satisfying story that is deeper than you might first think.
Verdict: The Shameless stays afloat thanks to good talent both in front of, and behind the camera.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Bribes: $480 isn’t near enough
Get them to talk using: Pig pheromones
The Shameless (2015)
Also known as: 무뢰한 lit. A Bastard.
Director: Oh Seung-uk
Writer: Oh Seung-uk
Kim Nam-gil – Jung Jae-gon
Jeon Do-yeon – Kim Hye-kyung
Park Sung-woong – Park Joon-gil
Kwak Do-won – Moon Ki-beom
Kim Min-jae – Min Young-ki
Park Ji-hwan – Son Kyung-soo
Choi Young-do – Kim Ho-gil
Ha Ji-eun – Han Ji-yeon
Kang Tae-young – Kim Jin-hyung
Ji Seung-hyun – Kim Dong-soo