Ever since Serpico, the idea of a cop betraying colleagues who have broken the law themselves has always been catnip for filmmakers, since the whole premise is fraught with conflicting notions about the meaning of loyalty and integrity. This South Korean police procedural, adapted from a Japanese novel that took place just after World War II, opens by maintaining the so-called integrity of its protagonist, Min-jae (Choi Wooshik), a rookie who testifies against an older partner who used illegal means to capture a criminal and is quickly blackballed by other cops as a result. Just as quickly he’s summoned by Internal Affairs, who then ask him to go undercover to nail another veteran cop whom IA thinks is taking bribes from a prominent underworld figure. The setup is almost too pat—Min-jae is the son of a famous cop who died on the job, and thus has a certain reputation to maintain. At first, he isn’t interested in the assignment, until he learns that the target of the investigation may have killed another cop in the service of the underworld figure. In addition, IA says that if he successfully brings down the targeted cop, they will let him see the sealed report of the investigation into who killed his father.
What makes The Policeman’s Lineage more interesting than your average crooked cop movie is the way this particular police organization works. Basically, Kang-yoon (Cho Jin-woong), the police supervisor under suspicion, is in charge of his own team, which carries out investigations separate from other police stations and also has to raise money for expenses on their own. This arrangement sounds outlandish given how easy it would be for the members of the team to compromise their own integrity, but the historical context, involving insufficient budgets during South Korea’s pre-democracy era, makes it all the more fascinating and credible. In any case, once Min-jae has inserted himself into Kang-yoon’s team as a key member, he notices that the chief lives the high life—expensive suits, a penthouse condo, BMWs for squad cars. Moreover, Kang-yoon’s obsession is a young drug dealer from a well-to-do family whose rival seems to be Kang-yoon’s main “sponsor,” which is what IA is concerned about, but soon Min-jae also learns that IA itself may be compromised.
It’s not revealing anything to say that Kang-yoon is under the sway of gangsters, but, as is often the case in this kind of action thriller, things are never that simple, and Min-jae’s loyalties are in a constant state of flux. Much less interesting is the action prerogatives which are doled out at such an even pace you can set your watch with each fistfight. I don’t normally come out of a cop thriller having learned something new and intriguing, so The Policeman’s Lineage at least has that to distinguish it from the rest of the lot.
In Korean. Opens Oct. 28 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955).
The Policeman’s Lineage home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2022 Acemaker Movieworks & Leeyang Film