TIFF ’11: Countdown

Posted: September 25, 2011 in Film Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival
Tags: , , ,

A scene from CountdownDespite the title and important deadline, Countdown wouldn’t really be categorized as a “race against the clock” picture. It rarely even provides a time check. Instead, it begins as a pretty straightforward action film; but by the end, it transforms into something entirely and unexpectedly different.

Tae (Jung Jae-young) is a debt collector and he takes his job very seriously. If your file makes it onto his desk, be assured he’ll find you – he’s the number 1 producer at his company. When Tae suddenly discovers he has a fatal disease and needs a transplant, he uses his collection skills to track down potential matches based on his deceased son’s organ recipients. The only possibility is Cha Ha-yeon (Jeon Do-youn), a female con artist who has her own motives for agreeing to help Tae.

This film features one of the most severe one-eighties ever shown on screen. The action star is often a tragic figure, haunted by some incident from his past. However, it’s rare for this event to play out so prominently in the narrative. In this case, Countdown jarringly goes from fast-paced, action adventure to tear-jerker, family drama.

Tae is very handy with an electrified baton he carries with him. Whenever it looks like the odds are against him, he whips out that metal rod and puts things back in his favour. His victims are various henchmen and security guards. Their target is typically Cha, but he eventually draws their attention as well. Conversely, we also learn Tae’s son who died was only 11 and he can’t remember how it happened. As Tae grows closer to his own mortality, he explores his past and begins to piece it together. The truth is unexpected and devastating. Though the high intensity main narrative that focuses on Cha and Tae’s battle against the criminal underworld continues, it takes a backseat to Tae’s overwhelming grief and regret. From the perspective of the viewer, it’s an incredibly unsettling experience; from a filmmaking point-of-view, it’s a brilliant accomplishment.

The plot becomes quite complex as an increasing number of relationships, mistakes and betrayals are brought to light. In short, this isn’t exactly South Korea’s version of Repo Men. But what it lacks in an awesome soundtrack, it makes up for in storytelling. Though expectedly serious in most instances, it also includes the occasional laugh, usually from characters that shouldn’t be funny, such as doctors or villains.

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