'Hero' offers a captivating tale
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: October 26, 2007
"Hero," a Japanese blockbuster set to hit Korean theaters on Nov. 1, may not strike many Korean viewers as a masterpiece. But if you are a fan of the original 2001 Fuji TV series, and are familiar with its trademark humor, its subtlety in the use of seemingly small details, and its evocative settings, it would take some kind of almost heroic self-restraint not to go see this film.
In the movie, Kohei Kuryu (Takuya Kimura), a young prosecutor who is addicted to buying sundry stuff that he sees advertised on TV, returns to the Josai Branch of the Tokyo public prosecutor's office, and reunites with his former colleagues, including his former loyal assistant, Maiko Amamiya (Takako Matsu).
His comeback after a six-year hiatus gets off to a seemingly smooth start, as he is assigned to a simple manslaughter case. What happened is that a blond security guard unintentionally beat an innocent man to death. The guard then escaped in a van, but was later arrested, and confessed to assaulting the victim on the street. In court, however, he retracts his confession, on the advice of his high-powered lawyer, Gamo (Koshiro Matsumoto), who formerly served as a prosecutor. It turns out that Gamo is not helping out the hot-tempered young man for nothing. Ominous signs begin to surface, suggesting that a political big shot -- a deeply corrupt one -- has been embroiled in the case, indirectly. Obliterating the prosecutor's case against the guard, therefore, is crucial for the politico, who has hired the famous defense lawyer.
Not so simple for Kuryu and his teammates. Now, Kuryu has to find additional evidence to prove the assailant's guilt. One clue seems to be linked to the van that the guard used to get away from the scene of the killing, but it is nowhere to be found. Soon, Kuryu and Amamiya find themselves tracking down the van in the Korean port city of Busan.
Although the plot is much more complex than a typical TV series installment, all the familiar "Hero" devices and tricks are fully deployed. The ensemble involving Kuryu's quirky colleagues remains the same. Elaborating the franchise's unique atmosphere, the production team has also taken care of every detail, ranging from Kuryu's office, which is filled with items he has bought on cable shopping channels, to his famous winter jacket. The frequent use of wide-angle shots creates the overall visual mood, another signature component of the "Hero" series.
The most satisfying difference between the series and this movie is the amount and intensity of comic relief. The TV show did not aim for big laughs; what Kuryu and the other characters elicited from viewers was mostly a steady stream of small, knowing laughs. The big-screen version keeps the overall comedy format, but louder laughs come when the action is in Busan, and Kuryu and Amamiya try to use Korean sentences.
Aside from the commercial appeal of the movie, "Hero" represents the full-fledged debut of Japanese pop icon Takuya Kimura, also known as "Kimutaku." Early this month, he visited Busan to attend the Pusan film fest, and he gave a series of interviews with the Korean press, as he enthusiastically promoted his role in "Hero."
Expectations are high. "Hero" is widely expected to be more successful than any other Japanese film that has been shown here, but, since many hit Japanese films have failed to generate huge ticket sales in Korea, the interesting question is whether or not "Hero" will be an exception, considering Kimura's star power and the how much of the story takes place in Busan, along with the presence of the Korean actor, Lee Byung-hun, a heartthrob who is keen to enter Japanese and other Asian entertainment markets. He makes a special guest appearance as a cool and handsome prosecutor. But don't expect too much. His character is minimally developed and almost cardboard-like, compared with Kimura's role.
Much more important than Lee Byung-hun's bit part is the much-awaited development of the relationship between the film's beloved couple, Kuryu and Amamiya. They have long been vaguely aware of their chemistry, but no breakthrough was offered in the TV series. The last scene is a particularly pleasant surprise for Korean audiences, in that it features a traditional Korean dish and a Korean sentence, and Kimutaku performs the final act in a heroic fashion.