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FILM REVIEW: “Vigilante”

Disney+’s Korean original offers food for thought on taking justice into one’s own hands

Kim Ji-yong, a police academy cadet portrayed by Nam Joo-hyuk in “Vigilante”. PHOTO: Walt Disney Co. Korea via ANN/KOREAN HERALD

(ANN/THE KOREAN HERALD) — “Vigilante,” directed by Choi Jeong-yeol and inspired by Kim Kyu-sam’s webtoon of the same name, serves as a poignant exploration of the public’s mounting frustration and indignation regarding what many perceive as the justice system’s inability to effectively penalise those responsible for the most heinous crimes.

Incidents stemming from drunk driving, drug-related offenses, domestic violence, attempted homicides, and insurance fraud have become recurring headlines in our daily news. For Kim Ji-yong, a police academy cadet portrayed by Nam Joo-hyuk, these crimes carry a personal weight. By day, he upholds the law, while by night, he administers a form of vigilante justice.”

After a hellish childhood living with his father, a vicious perpetrator of domestic violence, Ji-yong begins to hold a grudge against the Korean justice system and the loopholes that allowed his father to go free.

Holding the opinion that Korean laws are incapable of protecting the victims of crimes, Ji-yong delivers the punishment that he believes the criminals deserve.

While “Vigilante” follows the personal story of Ji-yong, specifically his motives and goals on his journey to become a police officer, the show entertains viewers with hard-boiled action, complete with fighting scenes as Ji-yong delivers justice in a black zip-up hoodie.

The stories of society’s most heinous crimes, the shameless behavior of the perpetrators, and the laws that fail to protect their victims will leave viewers with a sense of exasperation and anger. But these emotions are soon put to rest as Ji-yong exacts his spectacular revenge.

Though “Vigilante” is not based on a true story, viewers can certainly see elements of the real world reflected in the show, specifically how the justice system can sometimes fall short in the eyes of the public.

A case in point is that of convicted child rapist Cho Doo-soon, who was set free in December 2022 after completing a 12-year prison term. The case led to public outcry, with many arguing that Cho had gotten off lightly.

A scene from “Vigilante”. PHOTO: Walt Disney Co. Korea via ANN/KOREAN HERALD

In its sentencing, the court had said that Cho should have been given a life sentence. However, the sentence was reduced under the Criminal Act, which allows for mitigated punishment for a person who is deficient in making a decision or exercising sufficient control over themselves.

Cho claimed that he had lost control under the influence of alcohol, which was considered as a mitigating factor and led to a reduced sentence.

Cho’s release was strongly opposed by both offline and online protesters, who called for him to be executed or expelled from the city where he settled upon his release from prison.

Ji-yong’s story in “Vigilante” and his personal pursuit of justice raises the question as to whether personal revenge is ever truly justified

The show’s story intensifies as the police try to hunt down and identify this “Korean Batman” who has taken justice into his own hands, as Ji-yong camouflages himself among their ranks.

The eight-part action thriller is scheduled to premiere with the release of two episodes Wednesday on Disney+.