Yaksha: Ruthless Operations on Netflix – where’s the excitement?jessie tan
Sluggish, predictable and almost wilfully devoid of thrills, South Korean action drama Yaksha: Ruthless Operations offers none of the unpredictable or mischievous antics teased by its curious title.
Sol Kyung-gu (The Book of Fish) and Park Hae-soo (Squid Game) fail to conjure an ounce of crackling camaraderie as the mismatched partners thrown together in this jet-setting spy caper, reduced to going through the motions by a script that is utterly devoid of personality or imagination.
Park plays Han Ji-hoon, a disgraced public prosecutor who is demoted to the security bureau and volunteers for an assignment in the Chinese city of Shenyang, close to China’s border with North Korea. Han is sent to review the Korean government’s field office, run by Ji Kang-in (Sol), nicknamed Yaksha because of his reckless attitude and unorthodox methods.
Yaksha’s team is struggling to arrange a meet-up with a man who controls a private slush fund for the North Korean leadership, but thus far, Yaksha has been double-crossed at every turn, as Hiroyuki Ikeuchi’s dastardly Japanese villain circles his prey.
In a career spanning more than 25 years, Sol has positioned himself as one of Korea’s most dependable leading men, whether in heart-wrenching dramas like Peppermint Candy and Birthday, or tough action roles in Silmido, The Merciless or the Public Enemy franchise.
Yaksha takes its name from a Buddhist spirit renowned for devouring human souls, and the film goes to great lengths to ensure audiences understand why Sol’s character has been given this potent moniker and why it singles him out as an explosive agent of chaos.
Yaksha is presented as a once-honourable man who has lost faith in the government he is risking his life for, but whose abrasive exterior and deadly conviction still nurtures a purity of heart that can never be vanquished. As a result, it borders on the criminal that Sol’s performance is so devoid of charisma, as he sleepwalks his way through shoot-outs, stand-offs and too many tearful betrayals to mention.
Park can do little better with his one-note straight man, a virtuous stiff who was vanquished by bureaucratic red tape, and has vowed to do whatever it takes to get back to nailing the corrupt and powerful.
Like the very best examples of this genre, Yaksha: Ruthless Operations sets the stage for a genuinely intriguing slice of international tradecraft, but it never materialises. In its place is a blandly functional thriller, executed with workmanlike competence, that woefully lacks any discernible glamour, intelligence or style.
Yaksha: Ruthless Operations is streaming on Netflix.