Udine 2024 Review: CITIZEN OF A KIND, A New Kind of Hero Rises in Delightful Female-Centric Vigilante Drama

Contributor; Seoul, South Korea (@pierceconran)
Udine 2024 Review: CITIZEN OF A KIND, A New Kind of Hero Rises in Delightful Female-Centric Vigilante Drama

If its films and dramas are to be believed, South Korea is a land teeming with vigilantes.

They are typically brooding, sharply dressed and very attractive characters with dark pasts who mete out justice with brute strength or elaborate schemes, but Deok-hee, the earthy protagonist of Park Yong-ju's invigorating vigilante film Citizen of a Kind, is nothing of the sort, and what a refreshing change that is.

Played with dowdy intensity by Ra Mi-ran (Miss & Mrs. Cops), Deok-hee is an ordinary laundress who is in desperate need of a cash injection following an accident at work. A great weight lifts off of her when she receives a call from the bank informing her that she has qualified for a special loan. She quickly follows all the instructions from the voice on the line to jump through the brief window of opportunity, but once she emerges on the other side she makes the devastating realisation that she has just been scammed out of every penny she has.

Inundated with similar cases, the police devote few resources to her case and give her no cause for hope. Then she is called again by the voice who scammed her -- Jae-min, played by Gong Myung (Extreme Job) -- but now he claims that he has been imprisoned by gangsters in China and is forced to make these calls against his will. The police are skeptical, prompting Deok-hee to launches an impromptu investigation, with the help of a few of her female colleagues at work.

Scams are sadly a prevalent reality in Korea, and despite constant government and institutional warnings about them, scammers keep inventing more elaborate ruses capable of fooling even the most cautious of targets.

The Korean content industry has caught onto this dark social reality and produced several works centred around phone or online scammers over the last few years. These include a portion of the hit TV drama Taxi Driver, the current box office smash The Roundup: Punishment, and films suchas Following, Don't Buy the Seller and particularly On the Line, which follows a similar narrative trajectory but with a stronger emphasis on its thriller elements.

Citizen of a Kind, which is loosely based on real events, employs a more down-to-earth approach than these other titles. As Deok-hee's life falls apart in the early stages of the film, which includes having her children taken away from her, the tone is quite melodramatic but once the story expands to the illegal operation in China and gives Deok-hee a new goal in life, the film begins to get it hooks into you, which dig in deeper and deeper as Deok-hee becomes absorbed in her unlikely quest, which evolves from getting her money back to shutting down a massive crime ring and saving Jae-min, who she becomes to form a maternal bond with.

One of Citizen of a Kind's successes is its inversion of typical gender tropes. The damsel in distress here is a handsome but helpless young man, locked up in a dilapidated tower in Qingdao, while the male figures of authority, led by Detective Park (Park Byung-eun), are constantly upstaged by Deok-hee's amateur sleuthing. Wisely, the film doesn't completely vilify law enforcement, as Detective Park, whose hands are tied, is not entirely unsympathetic, and he does eventually become Deok-hee's ally.

But the most exciting side of this equation is seeing the ordinary people who come together around Deok-hee to help her in her goals. The group, which includes the wonderful supporting actors Yum Hye-ran (The Uncanny Counter) and Jang Young-joo (Veteran), eventually travels all the way to China for the film's most electric act.

Ra is in her element in a role that plays to all of her many strengths, while Gong once again charms us with a marvellously endearing role, just as he did last year in Killing Romance. Citizen of a Kind is one of the few Korean films to turn a profit over the last year, and though its performance pales significantly compared to any of The Roundups, Deok-hee and her ragtag group of crime-busters are equally deserving of their own franchise.

Citizen of a Kind

  • Young-ju Park
  • Park Byeong-eun
  • Ahn Eun-jin
  • Choi Hee-jin
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far east film festivalKorean cinemaphone scams라미란시민덕희Young-ju ParkPark Byeong-eunAhn Eun-jinChoi Hee-jinActionComedyDrama

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