One of the films I was most excited to see at this year’s NYAFF was Woo Min-ho’s crime thriller, Inside Men. Starring Lee Byung-hun (GI Joe), Jo Seung-woo, Beak Yoon-sik, and Lee Kyoung-young, this slick South Korean revenge tale became the highest grossing R-rated film in the country’s history, and for good reason too.
Inside Men follows Ahn Sang-gu (Byung-hun), a gangster and former political henchman who seeks revenge after losing a hand when he made a power play in order to rise in the world, a world where politics, media, and corporations have strong, unethical alliances to get things done. On the flipside, a prosecutor with no connections named Woo Jang-hoon (Seung-woo) looks to make his mark and rise in the ranks on the government side. Both of their missions are to take down Congressman Jang, a man about to win the candidacy for President thanks to a lot of financial support from a the CEO of a car company and the Editor-in-Chief of a major newspaper. The only difference is they want to do it in two very different ways.
Inside Men was a fun a thriller, the type of film that I love seeing at festivals like this. It’s nothing extraordinary or mind-blowing, but I would likely have never seen it had it not been for this festival. I’m a fan of Lee Byung-hun and this might be one of his best performances to date. The story is a tale of constant deception and is full of distrust, there is so much betrayal that it ends up breaking down to the point of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But even that phrase can be deceptive by the time we reach the end just because of the way South Korea functions as a whole and how important connections are there if you really want to move forward in life.
Watching the extent of the corruption and how powerful people can really pull serious punches without directly getting involved is impressive. They command the orders and their minions do their dirty work, no matter how illegal it is, when more power is on the line it seems they’ll do whatever is necessary to get what they want. What’s crazy though is how nonchalant they are about most of it, I think that’s the scary aspect of watching a movie like Inside Men. The only way to take them down is if their adversaries are cleverer than they are, which is tough to do.
As far as issues, I feel like there were some plot holes scattered throughout and some unrealistic situations without consequence, but the movie was entertaining enough that it distracted me and prevented me from even caring about those issues.
Overall, Inside Men is a captivating and entertaining crime thriller that takes us into the depths of the corrupt system that keeps South Korea’s wheels turning. With strong performances and a story that takes twisty turns to keep us on the edge of our seat, this film is the first real winner I’ve seen at this year’s fest.