"You’re a sh*t negotiator, Chae-youn. You get emotionally involved and you’re a f*cking terrible liar..."


Inspector Ha Chae-youn (Son Ye-jin) is a negotiator for the Seoul police force. Called off vacation to negotiate a hostage situation, she takes the decision to enter the building where the criminals are holed up to try to talk them down face-to-face. However, her brave move is wholly undermined by her boss, Captain Jung (Lee Moon-sik), who sends in a SWAT team resulting in utter tragedy for all involved.
Ten days later, in spite of having tried to hand in her resignation over the incident, Chae-youn is called to an anonymous, high-tech building with a number of powerful politicians and high-ranking police in situ. There, without even being told what is going on, she is sat down at a computer monitor to answer a video call from a man she soon learns is a terrorist called Min Tae-gu who has taken two hostages, one of whom is Captain Jung.
Her job is of course to negotiate with Tae-gu and try to save the lives of the hostages but, she soon discovers, equally important to the outcome of the situation is her figuring out why Tae-gu demanded her specifically to be chosen as negotiator...


We’re first introduced to Chae-youn as she arrives to negotiate the narrative’s first hostage situation, having been called away from a date. Dressed in a stylish fitted jacket with matching (noticeably short) skirt and high heels, she is close  to incredulous when her police colleague Hyuk-soo (Kim Sang-ho) states that she can’t possibly wear such an outfit to seriously negotiate with criminals, subsequently not thinking twice about changing into more suitable attire right in front of him and other members of her team.
As such, director Lee Jong-seok from the very outset gives an implication of Chae-youn’s strength of personality and indeed her self confidence, even before we see her negotiating.
This is underlined further at virtually every turn, whether you consider her decision (without hesitation) to enter the building where the first hostage takers are holed up; her subsequently attempted resignation or indeed her the ease with which she hangs up on Tae-gu’s video call when he doesn’t tell her what she wants to hear (even though that decision almost gives her superiors heart attacks, them fearing he’ll just execute his prisoners).

Why is that important? Well, while The Negotiation is of course the story of an ongoing terrorist situation – as well as indeed a tale of corporate and public service corruption as part of a dark underbelly to Korean society – it is far more a detailing of the (albeit sedentary) cat and mouse game Chae-youn and Tae-gu must play for one or other to get what they want and its success is wholly dependent on the believability of the two being worthy adversaries, each being as wilful as the other and as sure of what they each feel must take place. However, for viewers to fully invest in the growing understanding of Tae-gu by Chae-youn and vice versa, which is paramount to the film’s build to its culmination, character chemistry is a must-have which, sad to say, is rather lacking. That’s not the fault of either Son Ye-jin or Hyun Bin who both give performances of a quality you’d expect from such A-list stars.
Rather, it is lacking as a result of the fact that if you take their interactions in combination (mostly through short(ish) monitor video calls) they add up to far fewer minutes than I, you or anyone would expect would be needed to build understanding between them or even empathy to an extent. Not only that, but the huge focus on the video calls with characters repeatedly sitting in front of computer screens – whether Chae-youn and Tae-gu or indeed others getting involved – does slow the pace noticeably, giving a fairly static feeling to proceedings overall.
Sure, there is decent tension built through these scenes but tension doesn’t always equate to excitement and exhilaration is ultimately what The Negotiation longs for but more often than not fails to achieve.
Considering the strength of the early/first hostage situation depiction that’s even more of a shame.

First time director Lee Jong-seok does try to offset the story's somewhat static nature by introducing numerous twists and turns to the narrative (a international military operation to find Tae-gu and bring him down, for example) but he does go somewhat overboard and overcompensate leaving the narrative feeling cluttered, and that's before we even consider how frankly improbable some of those twists are and how contrived the ultimate (wholly expected) switch to melodrama is.

Ultimately, The Negotiation is watchable for  the most part but it is as much as anything else a drama masquerading as a thriller and as such it will never blow your socks off, as it were, in spite of characters having explosives strapped to their bodies. Could a more experienced director have countered such issues? Perhaps so, but I would suggest the story overall could have done with an adrenaline injection before direction even began.


The Negotiation begins confidently but its early strength is somewhat marred by the later story requirement to have various seated, static characters talking repeatedly through video calls on immoveable desktop monitors, and though the film does largely succeeds in building tension, tension doesn’t always equate to exhilaration.


Director: Lee Jong-seok
Starring: Son Ye-jin, Hyun Bin, Kim Sang-ho, Jang Young-nam


All images © CJ Entertainment
Review © Paul Quinn