Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Going By The Book (Korea 2007)

Going by the Book (바르게 살자), a comedy about a police training exercise taken too far, has a premise that manages to be both unique and paper-thin at the same time. If that hasn't grabbed your attention, then this may not be the film for you.

Jeong Do-man (Jeong Jae-young) is a traffic cop working in a small country town who takes his job very seriously (as the film title implies). He takes it so seriously in fact, that when his new commanding officer, Son Byeong-ho (Lee Seung-man), arrives in town, and just so happens to take an illegal left hand turn, Do-man gives him a ticket even after he learns who the man is. After settling in at the police station, Byeong-ho is disturbed at the high number of bank robberies taking place within their town in such a short amount of time. Public confidence in the police and their capabilities is at an all time low and people are concerned about using the banks. Byeong-ho devises a plan to prove to the media and the public that the police are capable of stopping the banks from getting robbed. A drawing takes place, where every officer will receive a different part to play in a publicly televised training program in which a robbery staged by the police will take place. After seeing Do-man's police work first-hand, and hearing about this by-the-book reputation around the station, Byeong-ho knows exactly who he wants to play the robber in this scenario. Do-man, reluctant to take the position, eventually agrees under the pretense that he is to do his best and that his captain feels he is the only one who will take the responsibility seriously. So Do-man begins a meticulous training regimen of sorts, by studying up on past bank robbers and learning different methods on how to approach the situation. When he finally gets to the bank and makes the demand for cash, the undercover agents at the bank, as well as everyone else, are startled at just how serious Do-man is. With the whole country watching, Do-man plans to give his fellow officers a training experience they aren't soon to forget.

As you can probably tell, and as I mentioned previously, the premise for Going by the Book is one-dimensional for the most part. It's literally a bunch of bank robberies triggering a public training display by the police. However, the way in which the idea is executed is somewhat inventive and can be quite funny at times. Obviously, Do-man isn't going to kill or hurt anyone, so the running gag with the signs he hangs around his hostages necks is quite amusing. The hostages range from funny to annoying, with only one of them being relevant to the big picture. The problem with the story for me is that when the training goes too far, and too long into the night, the police seem to have no way of infiltrating this bank. I got the impression that Do-man was definitely a by-the-book cop, but he's later presented as the most intelligent cop ever by out-smarting everything the police throw at him. Do-man is always one step ahead which I thought was a bit much. There is a bit of a back story when they explain why Do-man is just a simple traffic cop and not in a higher ranking position, but it really wasn't needed in a movie as silly as this one, and to be frank, I didn't care about his past because there isn't any character development in Going by the Book. Characters are simply just thrown together. Speaking of which, some characters are well-rounded, while others seem like over-the-top parodies (such as the SWAT commander). On the plus side of things, I will say that the film stayed a comedy throughout, with the exception of a few small instances, and that seems to be a rarity today in Korean comedies. I'm happy to report that there isn't some misplaced melodrama halfway through. There is some terrible music played throughout the movie, but I may just be nit-picking at this point.

Truth be told, Going by the Book is a fun movie because it feels unique and has some amusing gags. Just don't expect anything great from it, either in terms of story-telling or performances. It's mindless entertainment, and in this case, there's nothing wrong with that. (Lee)

Grade: C


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