The Sheriff In Town / 보안관 (2017) Korean Movie Review

The Sheriff In Town보안관 (2017) Korean Movie Review
#LeeSungMin  #ChoJinWoong #JoWooJin  #KimHyeEun  #KimKwangKyu

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Introduction
Do protagonists of a movie need a character arc? Do they need to start at one location and end up at another? Do they need to learn and grow as a person? I might be asking the wrong questions here. It would be more accurate to ask whether protagonists need to be self-aware of the changes within themselves. This is because this will signal to the audience that a character arc was concluded ---many don’t pay attention to whether an arc exists ----and generate a valid albeit bit superficial sense of satisfaction.

In most cases, the answer would be yes! But I would make some exceptions depending on the tone or message of a movie. For example, this would be movies in which the lack of one’s learning capabilities is the satirical or critical message of the movie. Another would be movies where there is a central character but that character is not the protagonist of the movie. These movies are more about the external aspects of the story then the characters. In any case, Movies that decide to make its protagonist a static stone within the plot are tricky to do as mistakes with the tone can seriously discourage audience’s interest by making it apparent that the protagonist doesn’t have an arc. Thus, the audience doesn’t care. This is the hole a Korean movie called “The Sheriff In Town” starring Lee Sung-Min, Cho Jin-Woong, Jo Woo-Jin, Kim Hye-Eun, and Kim Kwang-Kyu finds itself in.


The Plot
Where “The Sheriff In Town” finds itself on the genre categorization wheel is interesting. It is a detective-action-dramedy movie with a heavy regional neighborhood slice of life emphasis. As a side note, a “dramedy” is a film, television show, or theatrical work combining elements of drama and comedy. So, just imagine a movie with the more grounded comedic tone of movies such as “The 'Burbs” (1989) starring Tom Hanks and directed by Joe Dante combined with the clueless “detective” angle  --- you know … over the top --- of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994). The plot writes itself.



You have a so called veteran detective who has more bravado than sense or capability. He thinks of himself as an action movie cop but has no self-awareness he is not. Not in the psychotic manner I would have to say. Just in the normal idiot manner. Other than this rather serious fault in character, he is your common middle age Korean man. The character would be a silly side --- sometimes antagonistic --- character in other movies but he is our protagonist in “The Sheriff In Town”. So a twist? This character is played by veteran character actor Lee Sung-Min. You may have seen him in many Korean movies such as “Kundo : Age of the Rampant” (2014) and TV dramas such as  “Misaeng” (tvN / 2014).


The movie really kicks in after the protagonist gets fired from the force because of his reckless behavior. He retires to his coastal fishing hometown where he opens a restaurant --- like out of work middle age Koreans do --- and acts like the big man of the town. This is where the movie’s title comes in. He is the neighborhood captain or “Sheriff”. Years pass and someone from his cop days, a criminal, comes back into the picture. Even though everything seems up and up, our protagonist is instantly suspicious of the new comer to the town.  How does the saying go? “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”. Or is “A leopard can't change its spots” a better saying? So, the plot is very similar to movies such as “The Watch” (2012) starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn.  It is the comedy about suburb or rural people, who are suspicious of outsiders, go on a quest to see what is behind the mask of the newcomers/ intruders in a Scooby doo fashion.  Shenanigans awaits! “The 'Burbs” (1989) is the same although it has a central protagonist played by Tom Hanks unlike “The Watch” (2012) which is an ensemble cast movie. Korean character actor Lee Sung-Min is the Tome Hanks of this Korean movie, “The Sheriff In Town” (2017). The rest of the movie goes as formula with the protagonist doing wacky shindigs to reveal the truth. And the more he this acts out, he becomes less and less credible to those around him. The ending can go in two directions but I won’t say more. It would be a spoiler.

Walking among the townsfolk and joking around
The best thing about “The Sheriff In Town” (2017) is the interaction between the townsfolk. While not without dramatization---there is a lot of that----, the setting and characters feel authentic. And I’m saying that as a native Korean although I’m a Seoul native which makes me quite different than Koreans in coastal regions. You get my drift! How the folks related to each other and form relationships of friendship, ego, manipulation, and power feel grounded. This is the part that is most enjoyable. What about the comedy? Is it funny?


The priority of a comedy is to be funny. This is still true for dramadies like “The Sheriff In Town” (2017). How would I rate the movie in this category? It is middling…in terms of its comedy. There are definitely funny moments in the movie. However, first, unique moments are distributed far between and unevenly. The middle section of the movie drags a lot as the humor gets repetitive. Second, since the tone of the movie is still more grounded than your typical comedy, the funny moments tend to not have enough lasting impact to carry us through to the next funny moment. Third, when the movie decides to go big with its comedy and action, the movie just get silly and over the top which clashes with its original more grounded tone. Overall, I’ll say the comedy is so so. It is okay but nothing to call home about it.

Character in stone
The major problem with this movie is not its plot or comedy. These are formulaic/ generic but passable. The problem is with its protagonist who ill fits the movie. With this type of plot, there are a few ways you can go with a protagonist. It could be a vindication story arc in which a roguish but “smartest person in the room” super competent individual proves that he was mistreated by the lessor beings around him. Thus, the protagonist would start out brooding and damaged but still able to show a glimmer of his super competence. The story is his return to grace. The other way to go is to have a common folk, your protagonist, encounter something new --- or invader that would disrupt his sheltered world --- which he negatively reacts in an over the top manner. The protagonist could be just your standard Joe or a silly idiot depending on the movie’s tone. The invader would spur him off on a journey that would either confront his self-view or enforce it.  While there are variances, this is the gist of what one can do with a plot like “The Sheriff In Town” (2017).

The important thing is that there needs to be a character arc and the character should be consistent with the journey he takes on. This is where “The Sheriff In Town” (2017) makes its mistake. The “Sheriff” --- our protagonist --- doesn’t really fit. First, he is more of the standard Joe just with a badge but thinks he is a “smartest person in the room” supercop. And this perception never changes throughout the movie. His so called “fall from grace” was not because he was mistreated by his superiors but rather he made an idiotic mistake motivated by ego that ended up killing someone. And he never really learns from this experience. When he retreats to his hometown after being kicked off the force, he basically creates a life there that enforces his oversized ego. As the movie passes the first act, the protagonist is spurred into action by someone that endangers that ego filled life. And this is presented as a series of increasingly whacky and idiotic comedic shenanigans. The movie tries to present this as a chance for redemption since that someone is related to the incident that led to the protagonist’s fall. The movie fails to properly establish this since his fall is really his fault and no one else’s.  What or who the plot makes him chase is only tangently related to the character’s motivations.


At the end, this protagonist’s character arc is basically about the protection of his ego. He never grows as a character and the movie validates all his personal flaws. As a comedy movie, you could actually get away with this if the tone of the movie was more over the top and the point of the movie was more satire.  However, “The Sheriff In Town” (2017), too grounded and straight forward type of dramedy for this to work. The result is that the movie gives the audience a protagonist with no real character arc. If you don’t pay attention, it may seem like there is one but under close examination, there is none. More accurately, the movie fails to implement one.

Conclusion

As this type of movie goes, you could do worse than “The Sheriff In Town” (2017). It is sometimes funny and has some interesting drama moments. At the same time, you could do better without much effort. There is a lack of direction for the protagonist that the movie was never able to overcome. In addition, the movie was not able to balance the tonal contrast between its drama elements and comedy elements. I would personally say that the drama works better. Finally, I think the protagonist played by Lee Sung-Min is miscast. In many ways, the movie could have compensated for its tonal issues with an actor that could more subtly balance them in his performance. Lee Sung-Min, while a decent character actor, wasn’t successful in this area. Personally, I think he is better as a supporting character actor rather than a leading man. So, if you are going to watch this movie, watch it for a drama than the comedy. 

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