We’ve all seen enough movies to make us think we could be hostage negotiators too. All you have to do is keep them on the phone talking, right? There’s probably a little more to it than that, like special psychological training for when a hostage is brutally murdered in front of you. Inspector Ha Chae-yoon could never get used to that part, so she tried to tender her resignation. Instead, she is assigned to hostage crisis with touchy political sensitivities in Lee Jong-suk’s The Negotiation, which opens this Friday in New York.
Cha was supposed to be on vacation during the tragic opening standoff, but she duly hurried back. She will take an extended leave afterward, but neither Captain Jung or their Superintendent, Ahn Hyuk-soo is willing to accept her resignation. She therefore has little choice when summoned for another hostage crisis, but this time she will be dealing with the hostage taker remotely from the NIS operations center.
Notorious arm dealer Min Tae-gu has taken at least two hostages: Captain Jung and Lee Sang-mok, a muckraking reporter investigating Min’s operations—at least that is what Inspector Ha is told. However, it quickly become clear the NIS is covertly involved in Min’s drama, in ways that would embarrass the agency if made public. Even though the NIS and top government officials are clearly lying to her, the Inspector will try to keep Min talking for fourteen hours, until the strike force reaches his Southeast Asian hideout.
Frankly, The Negotiation makes The Negotiator (with Kevin Spacey) look downright Pollyannaish by comparison. Thanks to its unapologetically cynical portrayal of the national government and security services, it could practically pass for a sequel to Woo Min-ho’s Inside Men. Obviously, Koreans have little to absolute zero faith and confidence in their current government, because that is vividly reflected in their recent thrillers, most definitely including The Negotiation and Inside Men.
Regardless, the film is a grand slam showcase for Son Ye-jin, who is terrific as Inspector Ha. She brings out all of Ha’s insecurities, while still maintaining her intelligence and grit. Hyun-Bin also does some of his best work to date in what is being billed as his first portrayal of a villain. Of course, Min quickly becomes a rather ambiguous figure, but he is totally riveting nonetheless. Kim Sang-ho still has his crazy Einstein look going on, but he plays Superintendent Ahn mostly straight, with only a little bit of put-upon shtick. Lee Shi-A is also quite compelling as Yoo Yeon-joo, the tragic mystery woman, whose fate looms large over the burgeoning crisis.
Yes, there is a reason why dark thrillers are one of South Korea’s top exports, along with Hyundai cars and Samsung smart phones. They are nearly always tight and tense, but distinguished by strong characters and a fatalistic sensibility. In this case, Son and Hyun-bin really power it along. Enthusiastically recommended, The Negotiation opens this Friday (9/28) in New York at the AMC Empire.