Well Go USA // Unrated // $29.98 // December 23, 2014
Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 23, 2014
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Perhaps it's just a case of America getting the stuff that sells over here, but most of the Korean movies I've seen have been bloody thrillers, filled with immorality, brutal violence, and even harsher twists of fate. Traffickers, the debut feature by director Hong-seon Kim, is more of the same, about three sets of characters all connected to an illegal organ harvest on a cruise ship. In this case, although the extreme bits breathe a little energy into the movie, but they're a next-best outcome, with the film screwing up a more interesting story concept earlier in the movie. Add on a heaping helping of contrivances for the sake of suspense, and a somewhat muddled thematic message, the film is a misfire, achieving limited thrills through kitchen sink madness.

Yeong-gyoo (Chang Jung Lim) runs a business transporting goods from China to Korea. He has a number of mules who work for him, who he watches carefully to make sure none of them are stealing from him. The one type of cargo he refuses to go near is human organs, after a harvest went horribly wrong three years earlier, resulting in the death of his partner. Unfortunately, the incident also left him $30,000 in debt to Dong-bae (Seung-hwan Shin), who took a bath on the lost organ. Dong-bae pressures Yeong-gyoo into doing another job. The target is Chae-hee (Ji-yoon Jeong), a wheelchair-bound woman on vacation with her clueless husband, Sang-ho (Daniel Choi), and, unbeknownst to Yeong-gyoo, the beneficiary of the organ will be the father of Yoo-ri (Yun-hie Jo), a ticket-taker for the cruise line that Yeong-gyoo is in love with, despite her disinterest.

Traffickers is split into distinct thirds. Most movies about organ theft or human trafficking focus on the victims, snatched away from an idyllic vacation by someone who wants their kidneys. Therefore, it's sort of interesting to see the personal lives of the traffickers, and how they operate. The film doesn't really have any interesting observations about the morals of what they're doing, but it is sort of interesting to watch Yeong-gyoo threaten his employees in line, then try and play cute pick-up games with Yoo-ri, including pitching her a remodeled kitchen. Lim exhibits a shifty unease even when nothing seems to be wrong, perpetually wearing a slightly offended look on his face. This third also packs in the most generic set-up, showing us the sweet nature of Sang-ho and Chae-hee's relationship, and exploring Yoo-ri's frustration when the hospital tells her that her father will need to go back on the waiting list.

The second section of Traffickers is where the movie almost becomes really interesting. Naturally, Yeong-gyoo and his help, Yoo-ri and her father, and Sang-ho and Chae-hee all board the same cruise ship, where Yeong-gyoo's men kidnap Chae-hee in order to remove her organs. Putting all the characters in the same inescapable location suggests the possibility that Yoo-ri will not only realize who is obtaining the organ she's illegally paid for, but also who the organ currently belongs to. Such a scenario would open a really fascinating moral conundrum from Yoo-ri, even before Yeong-gyoo's crush is factored into it. Disappointingly, the film goes for the standard suspense beats of Sang-ho noticing his wife is gone and searching the boat, skeptical captain in tow. These scenes are riddled with characters making inexplicable choices to increase suspense, which repeatedly defuses the tension.

With the film having pissed away a more interesting question, the movie briefly becomes boring until the movie suddenly veers off into a wild series of twists and turns, centered around the fallout from the botched job three years previous. It's a wild, bloody series of reveals and flashbacks that manages to give the movie a new lease on life, even if the increasingly bloody resolution is only really engaging on a superficial level. After Sang-ho spirals into what seems like a nervous breakdown as the boat pulls into the harbor with no sign of his wife, Choi really gets to shine in the twisted events that follow, even as they test the audience's suspension of disbelief. Dal-su Oh (who many will recognize from Oldboy) is also good as Kyung-jae, the weary doctor hired to actually remove the organs. In the end, Traffickers provides a measure of thrills, but it feels like a movie that could've been more if it had diverged from the Korean thriller template.

The Blu-ray
Traffickers gets slick but frustratingly irrelevant cover art depicting a woman tied to a chair in some sort of basement with the title accompanied by a barcode. Since no women are ever tied to chairs in the movie, nor does any of the trafficking occur in a basement, this is somewhat misleading. Admittedly, the original Korean poster art was identical, but it's more stylish than it is accurate. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is an insert promoting some other Well Go USA titles.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, Traffickers is blessed with a very strong Blu-ray transfer, with excellent detail. Shot digitally on the Red One MX, there is a degree of clarity that impresses throughout the presentation, down to the individual hairs on Chang Jung Lim's mustache. Color appears natural and nicely balanced throughout, and only a hint of banding pop up in a few shots.

Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which is generally exciting. Although the film is a suspense thriller, the film's more gripping sequences are generally about silence and a minimum of noise rather than audio pyrotechnics. As the film moves into the home stretch, the intensity of the track picks up, including a more traditionally action-packed sequence where crowd surrounds and the precise scatter of debris sounds very convincing, and there's plenty of squelching and spraying to boot. English subtitles are provided.

The Extras

Those looking for some cheap thrills might find that Traffickers gets their blood pumping, but it's a bit of a slog to get there, made worse by the film's failure to recognize what might've been more interesting threads buried in its own story. Rent it, maybe.

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