The Shameless

The Shameless
Directed by Oh Seung-uk
Starring Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil

A police drama in which neither the murder itself nor the victim ever appear on-screen, director Oh Seung-uk’s gritty thriller instead focuses on the relationships of a diverse cast of underworld figures, examining how the machinery of corruption makes victims of everyone it touches.

Detective Jae-gon (Kim Nam-gil) – a shady figure in a police force all but entirely in the pocket of a powerful crime syndicate – is sent to investigate. Figuring that the suspect will eventually make contact with his lover Kim Hye-kyung (Joen Do-yoen) – a high class mistress heavily in debt with the same syndicate – he begins to follow her.

What unfolds between them is never anything less than customary for the genre: he falls in love with her; the guilt of his impending betrayal – using her to get to the suspect – consumes him ever more as events come to a head. In plot, The Shameless steers through all too familiar waters, a noir romance that plays it very much by the book.

Yet it is this focus on relationships that allows it to succeed, despite its lack of narrative ambition. The Shameless is a dirty movie full of dirty people; corruption and petty selfishness at the heart of every decision, every confrontation. Characters are not only interesting, but also oddly difficult to read: Jae-gon is an enigmatic lead; a policeman who is the lap dog of criminals, yet himself seemingly unbribable, beholden to a personal code of honour – or at least self-respect – that allow him to keep functioning despite the world he finds himself in. Hye-kyung herself neatly side-steps the ‘prostitute with a heart of gold’ label that could have befallen the character in a less smartly written thriller. Here she is too much a survivor, too smart to be any less tarnished than those that surround her.

So there is a satisfaction here, simply in watching a film do exactly what you expect it to, but doing it well. The Shameless brings little new, but impresses with its commitment to building real people out of noir cliches, where no-one is a hero and everybody is out for something.


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