Director – Joon-ho Bong
Cast – Kang-ho Song, Sang-kyung Kim, Roe-ha Kim, Jae-ho Song, Hie-bong Byeon, Seo-hie Ko, No-shik Park, Hae-il Park, Jong-ryol Choi
Release Year – 2003
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This is one film I had been meaning to watch for quite some time, but as usual…it took me a while to get a hold of it. I had heard great things about this flick, and it was even included on Quentin Tarantino’s list of his top 20 films since 1992, the year he began directing. Not bad huh? Anyway, after finally giving this film a watch I can see what all of the fuss is about. This is an amazing serial killer film that is in fact based on off the true story regarding South Korea’s very first documented serial killer. Told and displayed in awesome fashion, this film is a must watch by all.
It is 1986, and the province of Gyunggi, South Korea has been exposed to it’s second murder of a beautiful young girl; found raped, hog-tied with her panty hose, and gagged with her underwear. The province’s two detectives, Det. Park Doo-Man and Det. Cho Yong-koo rely on their brutal and primitive tactics during their interrogations, which to their surprise are unproductive. A young hot-shot detective from Seoul9the capital), Det. Seo Tae-Yoon, is sent to assist the province with their case. Much to the horror of the province’s unprofessional detectives, Det. Seo acquires the first big break in the case thanks to him relying on psychology over brutality. Due to the state of South Korea at the time, they do not have access to modern day technology, namely DNA technology, and must rely on primitive methods to further the case. However, as each lead and development leads them closer but not close enough to the killer, the toll of disappointment and frustration begins to kick in, dragging even Det. Seo down to his lowest point ever.
While this film is less of a horror film than say “The Silence of the Lambs”, there is still enough of an element of horror to warrant my review. Pretty much, any serial killer film can be enough to warrant a horror review given the serial killer content alone is horrific in nature. Nonetheless, before I get into that element lets talk this film’s relation to reality. Thankfully, thi sis one of the few films to actually portray the “true events” it is based off of. One reason behind this film’s success and ability to appeal to many is the fact that it focuses on South Korea’s FIRST case of a serial killer. This was no ordinary serial killer either, but one that required the use of over 300,000 policemen and the interrogation of over 3,000 suspects yeah, this was/is a big deal. Thanks to this element, selling the film must have been pretty darn easy.
One of the finer points of this film is Joon-ho bong’s direction and amazing cinematography. It was thanks to this film that Bong’s next film, “The Host”, received much and well-deserved attention. Right from the get-go we are thrown into an amazing visual experience that fully employs Bong’s use of his scenic surroundings. Few films show such beauty in several elements of weather, but rain, sine, night, day…this film is a treat to watch. Aside from aesthetics, the film’s pacing is expertly done as well. We do get some slow points here and there, but the character development and intriguing storyline kept me engaged enough to stay hooked on what was going on before me. Bong also does not stray way from showing the aftermath of the killer’s “activities”, a nice touch and definitely the biggest driver behind the film’s horror element. Some may find it taboo, and yes it is hard to watch and fathom, but given this film’s subject matter I expect and DESIRE to be shocked. Without that, the film would not succeed at moving its viewer emotionally.
Written by three writers including Bong himself, I must applaud all three of them for a fantastic effort. They threw in enough elements to keep this 130 minute film from dragging and added some great character use as well. Watching the two boneheaded Gyunggi detectives fail and waste time as a result of their primitive and barbaric interrogation practices sent a nice message to those who believe fear is the only motivator in a case like this. Watching the respectable Det. Seo Tae-Yoon achieve more success than his two “partners” without the use of force and shoddy interrogation but with his mind was overly pleasing to me. Don’t get me wrong, torture has it’s place in interrogations, but only when warranted and with a sufficient amount of evidence to show the person is guilty and just not coming forth. In this film it was Det. Park and Det. Cho’s first move, and a costly one given the amount of time they wasted on useless suspects.
The greatest aspect of this film in my opinion is the use of its characters, not the killer. We get a first-hand look at the toll the case takes on our three detectives, and how a lack of technology and proper training can severely hinder an investigation. Watching Det. Park and Det. Cho’s destructive habits turn to positive ones at the cost of much trouble was great to watch, and what only furthered this awesome character use was watching Det. Seo’s respectable nature turn worse and worse as even his tactics were no use for this smart yet pathetic killer. Basically this film is half thriller/horror and half cop drama. How often can you say “cop drama” in reference to a horror film? Not very often, and I like that these writers included that element.
If you are coming into this film expecting it to be the South Korean version of “The Silence of the Lambs” or “Seven” then you may be a bit surprised at what you get from this film’s killer. Why? Well, unlike both of those films, we never get much use out of the killer’s character. As a matter of fact, we only really see him one time. Yes, ONE time. Personally, I enjoyed that and felt that it added to the mystery and therefore intrigued me still the same as if we had received a lot of screen time from him. In all essence, this film being a serial killer film is…not about the serial killer. He is referenced, of course, but his absence is what sells the film.
Overall, this is an awesome watch that I recommend to all fans of the serial killer sub-genre. We get amazing direction, character performances, writing, and a brutal serial killer that is used expertly. Give this gem a watch.