A Film a Week - Pipeline / Paipeulain

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

What happened to Yoo Ha? Once he was a reliable and fruitful filmmaker present across the genre spectre, from the contemporary romance “Marriage Is a Crazy Thing” (2002) to a period gangster epic “Gangnam Blues” (2015). In that vein, his newest movie “Pipeline” shows some of its helmer’s mastery, but it will certainly end up in the bottom half of his filmography, mostly due to the very limited budget.

Drill-Bit (Seo In-guk, very active on TV) is a drilling expert whose skills and tools come handy in the shady operations of stealing oil directly from the pipelines. For his newest mission, he is hired by an investor Geon-woo (Lee Soo-hyuk of “Runway Cop” fame, sort of) with a daring plan to steal the large amounts of oil from two master pipelines that almost intersect at one place. His new crew consists of the welder nicknamed The Welder (Eum Moon-suk), the digger nicknamed Big Shovel (Tae Hang-ho), Chief Na (character actor Yoo Seong-muk who was glimpsed in the films like Bong Joon-ho’s “Memories of Murder” and “The Host”, as well as Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave”) who is an architect who knows the layouts of the underground pipelines and the woman nicknamed Counter (Bae Da-bin) whose task is to oversee the operation from the counter of the hotel which under the false reconstruction and to divert nosy cops and those who pass by.

Time frame is tight and there is a bit of mistrust within the crew in the beginning of the operation. But, as it often goes with heist movies of this sort, nothing is as it seems at first glance. Would Drill-Bit’s competence, professional and personal ethics be enough for him to stay afloat in the game of double-crossing?

Yoo opens the film in a slapstick-y manner that poses as action, riddled with clichés, over-acting and cheap visual effects. Fortunately, the director gets the grip soon enough, as the crew is brought together and the heist thriller mechanics sets in. Working from the script he co-wrote with Kim Kyung-chan, he does his best to divert the viewer’s attention in order to serve them with surprises and plot twists. Even when the film comes to its action-laced final act, its slapstick feels more organic.

Thanks to the editor Park Gok-ji, the pacing is solid and the changes in rhythm with short bursts of action come in handy. Also, the cinematographer Ha Gyeong-ho shows certain skills in creating a unique “geography” of multiple locations, which especially goes for the tunnels and underground structures the characters have to inhabit on their mission.

On top of cheap CGI, the budgetary limitations can be also observed in the way how the cast members handle their more or less typical tasks. Yoo Seong-muk is reliable as always, but his screen time is limited. Luckily, Seo In-guk shows some leading man charisma and Bae Da-bin is pretty convincing as a woman with multiple roles in the crew, some of which are a bit secretive. However, Eum Moon-suk as The Welder and Lee Soo-hyuk as the investor are prone to over-acting and hamming their performances.

Yoo Ha evidently has to work with what he is given in pretty much every aspect. He does his best to handle it and to keep it tight, but his success is quite variable. In the end, “Pipeline” is a watchable heist flick with an interesting premise. However, the way it was handled is not particularly innovative.

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