Veteran (2015) Review: How an obsessions with bashing the rich destroys

Veteran (2015) Review: How an obsessions with bashing the rich destroys

Hello. This is prof. AKIA with a rather belated review of a Hot Korean movie called “Veteran” (2015) which is another example of a Korean movie title having utterly no relevance to the movie itself. Most any other title would have been better a choice starting with the basic “Cops” to something more cheesy and flamboyant like “Badge of Justice.” I would have even taken “Bad guy” but I think that was already taken.

In any case, this is my review. I think I have much to write about and do not know how long this ride would be.

Fasten your seat belts!

There is nothing new about the “rich” getting bashed in popular culture. In Korea, we use the rather derogative “Jaebol” to refer to anyone we deem “Rich” and thus not one of us. While the term has a much narrower meaning, in common usage, it’s used broadly.

In any case, back to what I was rambling on before.

Since the time when people started to write on walls, people tended to bash others who had stuff that one did not have. It is not even concentrated in specific cultures as you see many examples of this type of bashing even in American culture which tends to be relatively favorable to the “monetarily gifted” compared to most other places on the globe.

While more British then American, this year’s sleeper popcorn action movie hit “Kingsman” (2015) would be an example with its not too sublet anti-“rich” or anti-establishment leanings. I mean the movie literally killed most of the establishment of the world and the in-movie repercussions of this was barely visible. Or it may have been overshadowed by the whole anal sex joke. Take your pick.

In many ways, there are far less “rich” bashing in American movies now compared to the 80s and 90s. Those glorious days. In the wider scope of things, you had evil corporations. Remember Robocop (1987) or any 90s action movie? Once the soviets were out and before the terrorists came into the forefront, evil corporations were the big bad for a while. Now, it is seen to be a little cheesy and tacky. On the more personal level, you had the yuppies that people seemed to really have a hate on for some reason in those days. “American Psycho” (2000) was rather late on that scene.

As a side note, a lot of middle class Koreans are rather close to yuppies nowadays.
Something to think about.

So, there is a way to make “rich” bashing work within a movie. You can do silly and over the top popcorn. You can do serious social messaging. What you cannot do is rub the audience nose in the “rich” bashing to the degree it feels like you are fetishizing the bashing itself. It just ends up coming off grotesque. “Veteran” (2015) commits this deadly sin.

You know what is sadder?

Korean audiences eat this up. It is commonly known that SEX sells. However, in Korea, there are 3 things that sell better: Anti-Japanese, Anti-USA, and Anti-capitalism or Anti-Jaebols. “Veteran” (2015) goes heads deep into the Anti-Jaebols that it is rather disturbing. The biggest hit Korean movie “Assassination” goes for the Anti-Japanese hard. It is also not that considerate of America since it totally excised America from the story of Korean independence.

So, let’s get into the movie!

The Plot
In many ways, “Veteran” (2015) feels like a throwback to the late 80s action movies. As a result, there is not that much of a plot to speak of. But if I scrape from the bottom of the bowl, the plot will be something like this. You have a “rogue cop” who does not mind getting his hands dirty and bending the law to get the bad guys. Think “Lethal Weapon” (1987) but combine Mel Gibson’s and Danny Glover’s characters into one since the rogue cop is also a family man.

Sadly, no “I’m too old for this shit” though…

This creates a void where the side kick character should be. Rather than going for the standard buddy cop dynamic, this Korean movie spreads the side kick role among his team. This is a rather Korean approach if I say so as American movies tend to avoid emphasizing the team in cop action movies unlike in their TV shows. If executed properly, this could be an interesting twist to the standard format. Whether they succeeded…

I’ll get to that a little bit later!

And now there needs to be an event and an adversary.  “Veteran” (2015) brings in a rich kid or 2nd generation “Jaebol” prick as the big bad of the movie. The movie tries to push the claim that being a “Jaebol” and a prick is the same thing but that is beside the point. The young prick is not an arms dealer or a drug smuggler. He is not trying to take over the world. He is just a mentally unstable, entitled, and anti-social punk that even the worst frat house would not want to have as a “Brother.”

Too Ted Bundy for even their tastes.

The prick ends up tangentially related to something bad that happened to an associate of the “rogue cop.” The cop then spends most of the movie trying bring this prick to his so called “Justice” when no one really cares. Even his team thinks he is over reaching even for his and their standards which are not high as they all tend to be on the side of abuse of power. And, at the end, the cop’s determination is vindicated and the protagonist and antagonist end up in a “Mano A Mano” fight mandated by all of the late 80s and early 90s Hollywood action movies.

What It Could Have Been…
Up to this point, there is nothing too unworkable with the movie. The plot is rather barebones but passable for a 80s Hollywood throwback movie. After all, it is more about the execution for those type of movies. You just need to get the action, and the character chemistry right and you got a good chance at a slam-dunk. “Veteran” (2015) could have been this.

I emphasize “could”!

The movie starts with your typical action movie cold open in which you get to see the heroes in action. The case they are solving has very limited relations with the overall plot but it is used to setup the characters and open the movie with a bang. Think the cold opening of “22 Jump Street” (2014) which itself is and is also a squeal to a 80s buddy cop action comedy throwback.

This opening of “Veteran” (2015) does what is required of it well as we are introduced to the team and the “rogue cop” protagonist. We see they are a competent team. We see that they bend the law a lot. And we also see that the movie covers this fact up with funny comedy. It is stating that the movie is going to one of those movies. It also firmly states that this movie is going to be a wacky cop comedy that veers into slapstick sometimes with the soundtrack blaring in the back ground. And I would have loved the movie if “Veteran” (2015) was the movie its cold open set it up to be.

Sadly, it is a case of false advertisement.

What It Is!
The cold opening ends around the 15 minute mark of this 124 minute movie and then all of the fun stops. In a way, the movie shifts genres from being an action comedy to a thriller and this shift is not subtle. Warning signals started to ring when the sound track which was always on suddenly stops and the movie gets rather silent. I began to think “did the movie run out of money?” And until the last action scenes, I cannot recall hearing much of the soundtrack through most of the movie. It must have been present but I cannot remember ever hearing it.

There is barely any action or comedy through most of this movie afterwards except for the final 10 minutes which tip toes over the line a bit to going back to an action comedy but only a bit. Thus, we are left with the “rich prick being a huge ass while the cop is acting like a huge idiot” show. Until about the 90 minute mark of this 124 minute movie, you basically have about 45 minutes of almost uninterrupted scenes of the “rick prick” acting out against everyone he comes into contact with. Yes, I am exaggerating a bit but only in terms of the “uninterrupted” part. I actually clocked the 45 minutes. In fact, it is rather surprising how few scenes the protagonist has during the middle section of the movie. It almost makes you think that the movie is the rick prick’s story rather than the cop’s one.

While I will get to the characters later, the less we see of the “rick prick” the better. Not only is his scenes ultimately pointless other than to show off how much of a dick he is, there is barely anything to the character. In this regards, the movie made a serious misjudgment. Not only does it become rather boring but the almost fetishizing level of “rich” bashing becomes rather insulting fast.

Until the final scenes where the final showdown happens, the rest of the movie is basically the “rogue cop” not actually doing his job and hugely over reacting to the situation. The cop basically agitates the situation barging head first into everyone including his own team. There is no stake outs. No trying to get search or phone tap warrants. The most we get is the cop strong arming a few people in a rather “abuse of power” manner. In other words, he is a terrible cop.

Considering how the villain is a huge idiot who doesn’t seem to have much impulse control, some proper police work would have resulted in the case being closed. However, then there would have been not much of a movie and I would have put my time to better use like getting something to eat or napping. In a lot of ways, everything that happens after the midpoint of the movie happens because the cop keeps escalating everything. Thus, the villain keeps making a mess trying to play defense and people, who did not have to get hurt, get hurt as a result which the movie never acknowledges.

The Characters
When I was overwhelmed with boredom, I didn’t really catch the fact that there is no character arcs through this whole movie. No one changes! The only people of any story telling significance whose state differs between the start and end of the movie are the villains. But just getting caught does not mean that the character has changed.

The Villain
Let’s talk about the “Rich Prick” first. And yes the character has a name but “Rich Prick” is basically the perfect name for him. It is rather obvious that the movie is going for Game of Thrones' King Joffrey Baratheon type of character. However, think about it for a moment. Game of Thrones uses Joffrey sparingly. Even though he is the character that everyone loves to hate, he is nowhere near the most interesting character in the huge bunch of characters that show has. How unbearable would it be if you get only Joffrey for an entire episode?

In addition, Joffrey had something special to the character that I cannot put my fingers on. In part, it is the actor playing him. In others, it is the other characters around him. I also think that the age of the character created more of a sense of tragedy. The “Rich Prick” from “Veteran” (2015) doesn’t really have any of these somethings. Yoo Ah-in playing the character is 28 years old and plays the character more bluntly. The character ends up more like a mash between Ralph Fiennes’s character in “Schindler's List” (1993) and Christian Bale’s character from “American Psycho” (2000) but without the subtleties those actors brought to their characters.

It is not that Yoo Ah-in bad in the role. It is just that there was nothing really much to the character other than some “daddy issues” which he is not given enough screen time to dig his teeth into. It is just about showing the debauchery of the character and the group of people he represents.  In other words, the only role his character has is to justify the bashing done by the movie.

Pathetic Villain
In this way, the movie is not totally successful as the “Rich Prick” is actually rather pathetic for a villain. The only dangerous factor of him is that he has terrible impulse control veering into psychological disorder territory. He is neither smart nor very grand in his ambitions. There is no bigger picture other than to grab as much of his inheritance as possible and blow it while abusing people. Throughout the movie, he does not really end up doing much with most of the acts performed by subordinates far smarter and surprisingly dedicated to the prick for some reason. But even they have a hard time keeping up with his stupidity.

When I think about it, making the villain pathetic could be viewed as actually being the worst form of “Jaebol” bashing which I am not sure was the intent of the movie. The movie has some oddly puritanical views on drugs as taking drugs makes the person the biggest villain in the room. So, Tony Montana of “Scarface” (1983) is the devil?

Joking aside, the movie shows you a few scenes of the prick sniffing some white powder as if that is enough to make him a villain. But the truth is that the prick is no Tony Montana! The guy sniffing what seems to be Cocaine makes Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character from “Cruel Intentions” (1999) look like a pimp in comparison.

And Cocaine is such a 80s drug.

This leads into the so called hero of the movie.

The Hero
As I said previously, for the protagonist of the movie, the cop is not the center of the movie. That is the villain. As a result, we barely get to know him as a character other than the basic rouge cop stuff. He has a family but we only see him with his kids once. He has about two more scenes with his wife but we actually get to know her better than him and she is basically the background character that the movie quickly forgets. She is played by the always good but never more than a featured extra actress Jin Kyeong. While you may not know her name, you will have seen her face around especially in Korean dramas.

As a result, even after seeing the movie, I had barely a handle on the character. The character is very under written. On paper, it is simply not clear what his motivation is other than being a typical rogue cop. The only reason the character somewhat works is totally on the shoulders of the actor playing the role.  Hwang Jungmin, who we last saw in the Korean megahit movie “Ode to my Father” (2014), does his best with the role but I cannot shake the feeling that he is miscast for this role.

With his rather spindly looks, he does not have your typical rogue cop physic. He comes off feeling shadier and weirder than a character like this can get away with being a rogue cop. If you are not going to make a noir movie, the audience has to be confident that the rogue cop will still just do the right thing and nothing more. This is how the audience can look the other way when the cop abuses his power. Hwang Jungmin does not really instill this confidence even though he has mostly played nice-ish characters.

He would have been better off if the movie was a comedy throughout since Hwang Jungmin can do comedy with a touch of emotional sincerity. And the opening of the movie tries and succeed somewhat at this before it stopped doing it.

Back to the discussion about motivations, the cop really overacts when he hears about the inciting incident involving an acquaintance he can barely remember when someone states his name. You have to ask the question why. The movie just tries to associate his actions with a rogue cop’s sense of justice. However, I am not sure if he would have reacted in the same way if the “Rich prick” was not involved.

If we rewind the movie a bit, the cop bumps into the prick before the incident and the cop instantly dislikes the prick even before the movie starts putting on the “asshole” show. While you can put this on a cop’s instincts as the movie tries to do, you can also put it on prejudice. I mean a strong prejudice against the better off. Have in mind that all of this is more of a feeling resulting from the overwhelming amount of “negative” portrayal of rich prick in the movie and not what was written on paper. However, considering that this is Korea and what is on paper is actually very sparse, this inference is not a huge leap.

See where I’m going with this?

Money, Jews, and Koreans
Watching the movie reminded me of a claim a Korean made recently. That Korean stated that Koreans are not racially prejudiced against Jews. And I agree and somewhat disagree at the same time.

“Jew” is not used in any derogatory manner here.

Compared to the numerous other peoples in the world, Koreans’ contact with the Jewish people are rather minimal. And the Jewish people, while not as numerous as some, are one of the more famous ones. I do not think a majority of Koreans will even recognize the most orthodox looking Jew if they were standing right in front of one. Thus, the possibility that we would pick up on more subtle ques is low.

This makes the Jewish people more like a fictional mystical people like the Hobbits to Koreans. As a result, Koreans are free to make up their own image of who Jews are by which I mean self-indulgent interpretations. The most obvious fact that Koreans first notice about Jews is the whole “diaspora” thing. We think “Jews suffered a lot. We also suffered a lot. So we are similar.” This creates a rather superficial but positive connection in the mind of a Korean. The fact that, if you get down to brass tax, it is rather embarrassing to compare the two, does not really enter a Korean’s mind. This is part of what educated Koreans call Koreans’ tendency to cosplay being the victim.

We Love to do that!

The next positive connection is made after overhearing that Jews are very into educating their children. Koreans think “We also do that!” since Koreans tend to fetishize the appearance of being educated. This goes way back to the past when Philosophy department scholars formed the ruling class of old Korea. Thus, now we spend tons of money to educate our children without actually educating them. In any case, this is a reason why Koreans publish books with titles like “How to raise your kid like a Jewish mother.”

While this is superficial, the image of the Jewish people Koreans have here is positive. But there is another side to this. Once you start to get into other elements associated with Jews, very familiar words regarding the Jews start to come out.

Money grabbing…

Some Koreans suddenly turn into Mel Gibson.

The reasoning behind this phenomena is intriguing to think about. Some of it comes from imported views of Jews that rubbed off on to Koreans. But I think this is not the whole story. The fact is that very few Koreans have had firsthand contact with Jews in the first place. So, even though we might have picked up some bad ideas, why did it stick so strongly? This makes me think how much of this is actually about any racial elements and how much it is actually about the social roles Jews are commonly associated with.

Money and business is a very touchy subject for Koreans. For most of the last 600 years, people dealing with money were seen as barely being above a slave. People who were merchants or in other business professions were shunned by the socially dominant scholarly class. Within the culture, dealing with money was seen to be a state to get out of quickly.

Think of it as being a pornographer in the 80s.
Make your money and get out.

Things have slowly changed over the last 100 years but this prejudice still strongly lingers within the culture although selectively. By this, I mean “if I do it, it is okay. If anyone else does it and better, it is filthy!” This makes “Jaebols” an easy target. Thus, the rather contradicting image of Jews can be linked to this “Social function / Job” prejudice Koreans have.

That was a long way to get to my point!

Jaebols and Prejudice
Watching “Veteran” (2015) ends up being rather uncomfortable as it is vehemently prejudice against a social minority within Korean society. Does it matter that they have money? Some would say yes. Other would say no.

But the thing is that money didn’t save the Jews of west Europe during WW2.

You could make a “rich” bashing movie work when you focus on an individual and do not further extrapolate the negative traits of the villain to a wider subset of people. After all, there are always bad apples amongst any loosely categorized group of people. “Veteran” (2015) goes over this line as it tries to say that the villain is a terrible sub-human being and the others within his social grouping are no better.

It is interesting watching this movie as the movie checks down every general slander, which existed even before I was born, that has been laid upon the subset of Koreans arbitrary titled as being “Jaebols”. They are sexually deviant. They are child molesters. They are drug addicts. They are mobster. They abuse actresses. They have bastards with those actresses. They abort those bastards against the mother’s wishes and etc. If this think about the hero’s motivation in this avenue and replace the villain “Jaebols” with a villain Jew, things get rather clearer and ickier. His sudden dislike of the villain makes more sense.

In many ways, the popularity of this movie is very revealing of Korean society. The negative feelings towards the so called “Jaebols” is at the highest amongst the population it had ever been in the modern times. This phenomenon is quite interesting as the Jaebols’ socio-political power has dwindling over past 15 years while still basically taking on the brunt of the tax burden in Korea. Just think of the fact that about 49.5% of the Korean tax payers with income do not pay any direct tax after deductions.

At the End
The movie “Veteran” (2015) commits many sins. Some are related to the technical aspects of the movie. Others are related to the message of the movie. In regards to the latter, depending on your political leanings, some people may not take too much offense. However, even those would have to agree on the fact that the movie over did it.

It is too obsessed with bashing Jaebols!

As a result, it commits the universal sin that even Karl Marx could agree on. It is boring! Except for the first 15 minute and the last 10 minute, the movie is simply dull!

I will end this already long review by giving “Veteran” (2015) a score of D+. There is no real need to see it. If you want to, just stream in and fast forward through most of the middle part.

Score: D+ or 3 /10

This was Prof. AKIA and thanks for reading my review of “Veteran” (2015). 

Created by AKIA Talking

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  1. Actually clocked it huh? I didn't think the "rich prick acts like a jerk" plot point went on for that long but yeah, those numbers definitely sound believable now that you mention it.

    The movie I ended up mentally referencing every time Veteran went into the anti-rich spiel was Public Enemy (공공의 적). I definitely think Public Enemy is the superior product, especially after reading your review. The villain is the exact same archetype, but he has way less screentime so he's nowhere near as irritating.

    More importantly Public Enemy has an actual character arc for the lead character. One which very significantly actually recognizes the fact that the lead character is kind of a dick and it's mostly just coincidence that he ended up on the tail of the Chaebol guy in the first place. That made the film much more engaging. For me anyway.

  2. Are you even aware that the scene in this movie where the trucker is assaulted by the "rich brat" is very much inspired by an actual event? (

    And that the local newwaves are constantly rocked by any number of major chaebol scandals with activities ranging from not just embezzlement or tax evasion, but assault, narcotics abuse, racketeering, corruption, surveillance abuse etc. These aren't fringe conspiracy theories. I'm only describing incidents that got reported nationwide by the left AND the right media.

    The majority of Korean audiences are well aware that while the character of the villain is over-the-top, a lot of his actions are firmly rooted in reality. This knowledge far better accounts for their positive reception to this movie's strong "Anti-Jaebol" message than your theory of "mindless prejudice."

  3. HAHAHA Loved it. fantastic review buddy

  4. I figured this type of misbehavior must have been a strong basis in reality given how popular this theme is in korean entertainment. It is a harsh country. There was an interesting article on how the government made businesses "bootstrap" there way out of the last recession. Our Morgans, Rockefellers, etc were no saints either.