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Going by the Book
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by Jay Seaver

"A downright hilarious twist on cops & robbers."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "Going by the Book" works on a wonderfully simple comedy principle: As long as you don't repeat gags, a clever underdog getting the best of overconfident people in authority will make people laugh and want more. Once you've got that sort of situation and enough good jokes, it's just a matter of setting them up and knocking them down. At least, a movie as funny as "Going by the Book" can make it LOOK that easy.

Jung Do-man (Jeong Jae-yeong) is our underdog; a former detective demoted to traffic cop after failing to make a corruption case against the governor stick, he still takes his job seriously, going to work every morning with his uniform spotless and enforcing the law to the letter, including giving he new Sampo chief of police Lee Seung-woo (Son Byung-ho) a ticket for a illegal left turn on an empty street. Sam-po has been hit with a rash of bank robberies, and Seung-woo proposes a special training exercise: They simulate a robbery, allowing the police to publicly demonstrate their effectiveness and hone their skills a little. Everyone has their assigned roles, and the chief personally assigns Do-man the part of the robber. And, remember, Do-man takes his job seriously.

To his credit, he does worry that the chief may regret his decision.

Jung Do-man is a familiar enough character; Simon Pegg played a variation on the type in Hot Fuzz. Jeong Jae-yeong is careful not to make Do-man insufferable; he looks apologetic when the clerk at the video store mentions that since they make their money off late fees, Do-man always returning his movies on time doesn't really help the business. Indeed, part of the reason that the audience can laugh so heartily at Do-man making the entire police department look like fools is that he seems to be taking very little pleasure in it; he wants to be caught but is unable to give less than a full effort. If he was a jerk about it, we might not enjoy the other cops getting their comeuppance quite so much.

Jeong is also adept with the physical comedy. One of the neat tricks director Ra Hee-chan pulls is that even though we know the whole thing is a fake, he still gets us to fall into heist/hostage-movie mindsets every once in a while, and we're surprised when he yells "bang!" rather that shooting his gun, pantomimes what an actual robber would do, or hangs signs reading "tied up" or "dead" around someone's neck.

The movie is clearly Jeong Jae-yeong's show as Do-man, but the filmmakers also pepper it with an equally funny supporting cast. Lee Yeong-eun, for instance, is cute and charming as the teller who has the misfortune of being the one Do-man "robs", but soon seems to figure this is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to her and defends Do-man from the other people in the bank who figure he's going too far. Ko Chang-seok is chief among them, the head of detectives who complains non-stop, despite the fact that he is "killed" early on. He's just the first in a long list of cops maddened by the fact that Do-man seems to be one step ahead of them. Son Byung-ho's chief is also on that list, especially once the situation becomes a media circus - which he had a big part in creating.

There are times when I wondered just where exactly Ra and writer Jang Jin were going with Son's Lee Seung-woo. Early on in the film, he's played as a bit of a buffoon, looking at Sampo as a brief stop on his route to a job at headquarters, with the training exercise just a way to put himself in the public eye. And yet, there are scattered moments where the movie seems to imply that he knew full well what he was doing when he put Do-man in charge. I half-wonder if there's a subplot about Lee being far more clever than he appears on the cutting room floor.

I'd be curious to see them, although the movie winds up working in part because it sticks to why people came to see it - upstart embarrassing inept authority figures - without detours. As easy as that sounds, very few movies do it quite so well as this one.

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originally posted: 07/24/08 06:07:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 16-Apr-2013



Directed by
  Ra Hee-chan

Written by
  Jang Jin

  Jung Jae-yeong
  Ju Jin-mo
  Son Byong-ho
  Lee Han-wi

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