Inside Men – Director’s Cut (Nae-bu-ja-deul)
Korea (2015) Dir. Woo Min-ho
Connections are handy to have in life. They can help you up the ladder of success, get you out of trouble or make the impossible possible. Conversely, when the brown stuff is en route to the fan, being connected to the source of the trouble could be one’s undoing. Inside Men explores this and more in a mercilessly corrupt modern day Korea.
An Sang-Goo (Lee Byung-Hun) was your everyday thug until he found himself working as a henchman for some three prominent public figures – editor-in-chief of a top daily newspaper Nation Daily Lee Kang-hee (Baek Yoon-sik), potential Presidential candidate Jang Pil-woo (Lee Geung-young) and Oh Hyun-soo (Kim Hong-pa), president of Mirae Motors – organising their illicit parties, cleaning up their mess, etc.
When Ahn discovers a slush fund set up by Mirae Motors using an illegal 3 billion dollar loan from Hangyul Bank, some of which went towards Jang’s campaign, he is brutally tortured and his right hand cut off. Ahn later resurfaces ready to exact his vengeance, the only thing standing in his way is the political clout of his former employers and ambitious prosecutor Woo Jang-hoon (Cho Seung-woo) also looking to bring them down.
As the title suggests, this review is based on the three-hour director’s cut of this film, a whole 50 minutes longer than the theatrical version. With so much detail explored in the mechanics of the corruption involved and the sprawling nature of the story, it is difficult to see what would have been removed for the shorter cut. Outside of a few instances of info dumping and a clumsy coda, the bulk of the content is mostly congruent and often vital.
Beginning life as a webtoon, Naeboojadeul by Yoon Tae-Ho, Woo Min-ho does an enviable job of keeping our attention for the whole three hours, the power being in the execution. With so many plot threads incorporated into the story and so many faces to keep track of, it takes a while to get into things but as time goes on, the focus thankfully narrows down to the main players.
Every single person is shady in one way or another, or possesses some sort of flaw to prevent them from being likeable. Ahn becomes the de facto protagonist by virtue of his expulsion from the group and the subsequent dirty tricks used to silence him. Prosecutor Woo should also be labelled a protagonist but his insular attitude and brusque manner works against in that respect.
The script pours scorn on the high level of political corruption in South Korea whilst exploring the extent of the cover-ups when a crisis reveals itself. Initially the problem that surfaces for this cabal of the elite is the fact Mirae Motors is Nation Daily’s biggest advertiser as well a major supporter of Jang’s Presidential campaign, which Lee naturally threw his paper’s weight behind.
With Ahn out of the way, the plan continues until Woo decides to follow up the case, but without proof, he is facing a brick wall – until Ahn resurfaces, having rebuilt his life and began a clandestine evidence collecting campaign of his own. For this he uses an old gang member Park Jong-Pal (Bae Sung-Woo) as a businessman and former lover turned pop star Joo Eun-Hye (Lee El) as the undercover sexual bait.
It all spirals out of control in a way that is impossible to summarise, with twists and turns occurring almost at the blink of an eye. Just when it seems we can predict the direction the story is heading, another rabbit is pulled from out of the hat and it is back to the drawing board. Cleverly, innocent people are involved in this too, revealing the complexities of the planning of the crooks in securing their bases.
Such attention to detail is where the script elevates itself above others that tell their story in half the time and with questions unanswered and threads left dangling. The only thing that threatens to confuse the issues is the jumping between timelines. In some cases it is obvious we are watching the past as Ahn either has both his hands or his appearance is vastly different from that of the present day.
Of course not everything is shown during these flashbacks to keep some surprises for the end or to facilitate another twist in the plot but paying close attention is paramount when viewing this film while making assumptions about the outcome isn’t. And yet, even as a work of fiction, it is a stunning indictment of the corrupt mind and how far those drunk on power will go to keep the status quo of their malfeasance under control.
Woo’s other target is the use of connections in life and the downside of having too many people to consider. While Ahn, Lee and the others have people they can rely on to either cause or fix a problem, Prosecutor Woo stands alone, having risen through the ranks as former police officer by dint of his own efforts as a country boy facing the city alone – at least this is until he and Ahn realise they share a common enemy.
Production wise this has glossy Korean crime thriller blockbuster written all over it, with the usual cinematic bells and whistles employed to give a polished and slick feel to it. Yet, the film is also very dark and whilst the violence is sparse, it is brutal and often wince inducing.
The cast, mostly Korean cinema heavyweights, are all top notch, with Lee Byung-Hun undergoing the most physical and personality changes. It’s sad to note that, while relative to the nature of the story, female roles are eye candy only.
If this 3-hour version doesn’t get a full international release I’m sure a 130 minute Inside Men will be a suitably enjoyable K-Thriller. The most in-depth look at internal corruption since Japan’s Confessions Of A Dog, this extended version is quite an investment of your time but should prove rewarding nonetheless.