If you were to graft the revenge subplot and inventive thieves of Ocean's Thirteen onto Michael Mann's Heat, you'd get something approaching Eye for an Eye. While the film has a Korean pedigree, its slam-bang handling of the subject matter is thoroughly Western. This is a slick actioner that unfortunately suffers from some flimsy characterization and tonal inconsistency which isn't surprising given the points of inspiration I've mentioned.
Capt. Baek Sung-Chan (Suk-kyu Han) is so close to freedom he can almost taste it. Since Freedom is an entirely subjective concept, I should mention that Baek just wants to retire from the police force so he can join his friend's pest extermination company. The way he sees it, after years of dealing with vermin that manage to squirm out of the grasp of the legal system, he'll finally be dealing with the kind that can be disposed of permanently. As movie lovers we have been trained to expect that as soon as a character decides to retire, he will either die or find himself in a situation that makes him reconsider. This film is no different. As Baek is tendering his resignation, he gets word of a gang of thieves who just knocked over a van transporting cash from a credit union owned by Kim Hyun-Tae (Young-chang Song). The cherry on this crime sundae is that one of the thieves assumed Baek's identity for the purpose of the heist.
Having postponed his retirement from the police force, we shadow Baek as he follows up on leads including a discussion with Kim, the owner of the credit union. This conversation with its veiled hostility is the first inkling we get that the thieves may not be the true villains of this piece. Besides having an unsavory past with Baek, Kim reveals himself to be the sort of teeth-gnashing baddie who enjoys bouncing golf balls off his flunkies at a painfully close range. There is a scene later in the film where Kim is walking through a hospital and spots a poor woman desperately trying to secure some medical aid for her sick husband. Rather than simply ignoring her (which in his case would have been an act of kindness), he goes up to her and hisses, "If you don't have money, die." He then walks away, marveling at his choice of words with some measure of pride. That should help you get some vicarious pleasure out of the scenes where the thieves blow through Kim's loot in typically wasteful fashion.
Of course, this is a caper film so nothing is as it seems. One of the thieves, Ahn Hyun-Min (Seung-won Cha) has a great deal more than money on his mind. He is driven by revenge, the source of which I'll leave for you to find out. Baek is driven by duty and ego, which allows him to abandon the good cop act during an interrogation scene with an informer that turns surprisingly intense. While he would love nothing more than to nail Kim for past misdeeds, he hates that Ahn is using him as an instrument in his own scheme. As Baek and Ahn engage in a bit of cat-and-mouse during the film's second half, they generate some sparks leading into the climax which brings it all home with a pinch of sacrifice, a dash of honor and a few telegraphed double-crosses.
I mentioned before that this is a slick enterprise. This is without a doubt the film's greatest strength. Unfortunately it is also the film's greatest weakness. Let me first get into what works with this film. It's an incredibly efficient thriller that races from start to finish while generating a bit of suspense along the way. The opening van heist and an early con involving gold at an airport are well-staged and executed. Most film heists don't hold up very well to scrutiny and that's true here as well. However, the eye-roll inducing coincidences stay out of sight for the film's duration so that's a definite plus point. On the flip side, the film's efficiency often reduces the characters to mere puppets in the plot. They churn through the machinations of the film without building credibility or sympathy with the viewer. Of the protagonists, Baek gets a bit more screen time and seems more fleshed out because of it. Ahn's character is sadly underdeveloped although the climax attempts to remedy this by heaping exposition onto him.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this movie is how seamless it feels considering it shows two directors, Kwon-tae Ahn and Kyung-Taek Kwak, in the credits. There is a definite tonal imbalance but I believe that has more to do with cramming the hard-edged elements of a crime film next to the almost playful elements of a caper film. It's the equivalent of staring down someone while winking at the same time. It's hard to pull off and confusing to watch. With all that said, from a purely visual standpoint I'm amazed that any sort of stylistic consistency could be established at all. Kyung-Taek Kwak clearly worked well within the constraints set up by Kwon-tae Ahn and delivered a stylish and kinetic film. It may have problems establishing a unique identity but Eye for an Eye definitely isn't boring.