The Policeman’s Lineage is a film of many faces, if all of those faces were blurry or faded, and none of them were fleshed out or fully realized. Directed by Kyoo-man Lee (Wide Awake) and starring two Parasite alums, Choi-woo Shik and Park Myung-hoon, the film establishes itself as something akin to a fever dream in its first act. From its incessant use of slow-shutter and quick zooms, switching its style of filmmaking without warning, it feels as though it was directed by three different people with three different visions. The Policeman’s Lineage hits the ground running (and I mean running). It asks the audience to keep up in a manner far too radical. It doesn’t help that, for the first forty or so minutes, the pace does not let up. It doesn’t give you even a second to breathe or gather anything resembling a logical thought or opinion. There are so many characters, relationships, and nuances introduced so early and so fast without anything balancing it out in between that it left me utterly dumbfounded at the ambition of it all. However, what was its ambition? If anything, it felt as if it were rushing to its own finish line, trying to ‘cut to the chase’ before we knew what the ‘chase’ of it all was.
The film follows Choi-Min jae (Shik) as he goes undercover within his own force, hoping to uproot suspected corrupt cop Park-Kang yoon (Cho Jin-woong). The way Choi-Min ingratiates himself within Park-Kang’s unit feels completely devoid of progression. The film simply places the characters together, having never met, and jumps over the (very important) step of showing us how their relationship forms, whether it be hatred or friendship. They go from never having met to chumming it up like life-long friends in the matter of two scenes. Admittedly, to The Policeman’s Lineage’s benefit, it’s not a slog. The pace is breakneck. Instead, the issue stems from the extent at which it moves, like a roadrunner at a snail race. Crime dramas, especially ones that pose legitimate questions about morality or the extent of the call of duty, should be slow and methodical, mirroring the investigation it follows. Now, if The Policeman’s Lineage committed to its pace for all hundred-twenty minutes, it’d have garnered more respect. It might not have been great, but it would’ve been true to itself, which is something I cannot say for the product we’re left with.
If the three acts of this film were siblings, the middle child would be the odd one out. The second act of Lineage is actually…quite enjoyable to be honest. It slows everything down. We know the characters (to an extent) and we have somewhat of a grasp over what these characters are doing, what their goal is. The second act is where they actually begin to go about completing said goal. It hits a stride. Choi-Min and Park-Kang develop somewhat of a friendship, a camaraderie.
Park-Kang operates on a different plane from Choi-Min or the rest of the department, doing nearly whatever it takes, whether it be bribes, murder, or drugs, to catch his unlawful prey. On the other side of the struggle, Internal Affairs agent Hwang In-ho (Park Hee Soon) maneuvers entirely within the confines of the law, avoiding deviation at any cost. Lineage, in the very least, has a purpose. It has a story to tell and a perspective from which to tell it. At the most, it’s nothing new for the genre, how far should a servant of the law go to catch those who disregard it? At the least, it adds enough fuel to the fire for its audience to take a contemplative moment before considering the film a waste of their time.
Lineage’s third act throws a wrench in the slowly spinning gear that was act two, bringing any momentum the film had to a complete halt, which is ironic, being how it’s at its best when it takes its time. In hindsight, this film should’ve been three hours (at least). Lineage alternates between two woefully divergent sides of the same coin. If Zodiac and Uncut Gems were amalgamated into one, with an even shorter runtime, you’d have The Policeman’s Lineage. While the story in front of the camera is one of morality, and these characters face life-or-death situations at nearly every turn, the choices made behind the camera tell a different, far more awkward story. With a weird use of quick zooms straight out of an episode of Succession, The Policeman’s Lineage doesn’t pose anything interesting when it comes to the lens from which we actually see. It doesn’t use its frame to show the characters as trapped, scared, confident, or free when it would’ve been so important to have done so. Instead, the creative choices made behind the camera tell a story of a muddled creative vision, and a director unwiling to take the risks necessary to stand out in a genre already overpopulated with bland, passionless knockoffs.
The Policeman’s Lineage had all the ingredients to be something special, but couldn’t quite get there.
The Policeman’s Lineage was released on VOD platforms on June 7.