An odd mishmash of competing genres, Lee Kyu-man’s South Korean drama “The Policeman’s Lineage” is a somewhat intriguing but ultimately bland detective story. What begins as a murder mystery quickly gives way to an undercover corruption narrative, i.e. “Infernal Affairs,” before finally settling into a tedious actioner. While anchored by strong performances by Cho Jin-woong (“The Handmaiden”) and Choi Woo-sik (“Parasite”), as the possibly corrupt cop Park and the rookie IA officer Choi sent to investigate him, the film oscillates so wildly between tones that it’s hard to get a grasp on if it’s meant to be a serious indictment of policing, a buddy-cop film, or a tongue-in-cheek shoot-em-up.
Beginning with a flashback to Choi’s father, a policeman who was ultimately killed in the line of duty, “The Policeman’s Lineage” quickly establishes Choi as both the moral center of the narrative and a police officer out of his depth. Sent undercover to an elite drug task force, led by Park, his real mission is to investigate the force’s leader, discovering how he maintains the opulent lifestyle that includes a penthouse and a Mercedes, all the while investigating the mystery surrounding his father’s death. Park quickly takes a liking to Choi, employing him as his driver and introducing his own informants to the rookie. Yet when a new drug is introduced to the marketplace by the kingpin Na (Kwon Yul) Choi is forced to choose between his loyalty to Park or his real boss at IA, Hwang (Hee-soon Park).
While the mole in an elite police unit is a narrative that has become cliché, “The Policeman’s Lineage” manages to elicit some tension out of the spycraft that goes on between Choi and Park, each sizing the other up. For much of the film’s first half, Lee focuses on Choi’s ability to get close to the wary Park. The two-hander allows Cho Jin-woong and Choi Wook-sik the space to play off each other, each shading in their, frankly, stereotypical characters.
But, the IA investigation that serves as the main narrative is, oddly, diffused halfway through the film, when Park discovers Choi’s real purpose and doesn’t seem to care all that much. What begins as an undercover investigation quickly transitions into a team-up where Park and Choi are forced to try and bring down Na, and his ‘nefarious’ plan to introduce psychotropic drugs that only work when mixed with the caffeine in coffee. If that sounds ridiculous, it plays out even more so with Yul’s over-the-top acting that is a mustache-twirl away from cartoon character
Yet, even that investigation is quickly replaced by a borderline insane climax that is straight out of a VOD actioner that sees Choi fight multiple henchmen in a bathroom and a shoot-out that takes place on a ship that is shot in one long take and is, honestly, nausea-inducing as the camera flies around. By the time the film ends on its blatant sequel-bait, suggesting that Choi and Park could operate outside of the law to take down criminals, it’s all a little much.
While the first hour or so is compelling, the problem with “The Policeman’s Lineage” isn’t so much the fact that it’s an amalgamation of various genres and tropes, but more that there is little coherency when the film transitions between them, creating a feeling of whiplash. In the end, the film feels like three different scripts that were stitched together with little attention paid to whether they made sense. [C-]