In a desolate, crime-ridden part of town, former boxer Sang-pil (Lee Yeong-hoon (이영훈) turns to local loan shark Jae-gon (Jeong Wook (정욱) to support his gambling habit. Yet through his appallingly bad luck and with debt spiraling out of control, Sang-pil soon finds himself on the receiving end of the gangster’s wrath. In desperate need of a quick-fix solution he turns to estranged wife Yeon (Son Yeo-eun (손여은), who also takes care of their psychologically ill son Geon-ho (건호), for help but to no avail. As Sang-pil is unable to settle the debt, however, Jae-gon comes looking for Yeon for restitution.
Coin Locker is a highly erratic and lackadaisical attempt at crafting a gangster-infused drama by director Kim Tae-kyung. Technically lacking, the narrative is also consistently a rather slap-dash affair as storylines and characterisation veer haphazardly, while the ‘logic’ within is often unintentionally comical.
Due to the uncoordinated nature of the script, Coin Locker never really seems to know what kind of film it wants to be and often features large plot holes. Initially it attempts to conform to crime conventions through the conflict between Sang-pil – a terrible former boxer who is seemingly unable to physically defend himself – and cravat-wearing, unthreatening local kingpin Jae-gon, before employing drama tropes as Yeon and her son go on the run, with the foolish mother continuing to frequent familiar places and impossibly confining her son within a subway coin locker, for which he would have to be a skilled contortionist to fit inside of. Add to the mix Geon-ho’s surreal subconscious scenes in which he talks to and blows bubbles with a strange older man, and the result is a mish-mash of disparate features that never successfully coalesce into a satisfactory whole.
Poor characterisation and acting work in conjunction to generate unintended farce, serving to dissolve tension as well as to withdraw audience engagement. Sang-pil is a vile low-life, not only a debt-ridden gambling addict but also a man willing to sell his family home without their acknowledgement. Yet following such behaviour, Coin Locker posits him as a heroic saviour figure during a particularly violent and misogynistic finale, a change of heart that rings especially hollow. Similarly dotting mother Yeon is content to leave her traumatised son in the care of strangers or in an impossibly small coin locker while she attempts – and fails – to to work as a ‘hostess,’ despite the knowledge that they’ll soon be departing for New Zealand anyway. Gangster Jae-gon is the only consistent character throughout the film, with actor Jeong Wook clearly taking great pleasure hamming it up during his scenes.
The film also suffers in other forms, including repetition – gangsters chase, victims run – and corporate placement – Popeye’s, Tesco Homeplus and Lotte Mart logos feature prominently. Tone is also problematic, as after adeline-pumping chase sequences scenes such as blowing bubbles on a rooftop or fun at a fairground suddenly occur. For all of the attempts to play with suture a variety of generic conventions, Coin Locker ultimately, and rather unfortunately, falls flat.
Coin Locker is an erratic crime-drama by director Kim Tae-kyung. Featuring a particularly uncoordinated narrative, haphazard characterisation and large plot holes, the film is consistently lacking and is often unintentionally comical. While it attempts to amalgamate various conventions they never successfully coalesce into a satisfactory whole, and as such Coin Locker ultimately falls flat.