An undeniably slick and entertaining thriller from first time director Jung Geun-Sub…
Nearly 15 years ago, Ha-Kyung’s (Uhm Jung-Hwa, Dancing Queen, Bestseller) daughter had been kidnapped and found dead, without ever finding the offender. Now just a few days before the statue of limitations applies on a case, detective Chung-Ho (Kim Sang-Kyung, HaHaHa, Memories Of Murder, The Tower) uncovers a new clue that could shed light on it. Having promised her long ago that he would find the kidnapper, he now frantically throws himself back into the investigation.
Debut writer/director Jung Geun-Sub blows you away in the first few minutes with his stylish visuals, all slow motion photography and rain showers, beautifully complemented by Lee Jong-youl’s (Parallel Life) cinematography. Here you find echoes of Lee Myung-Se’s beautifully stylistic Nowhere To Hide, made all the more evocative by the later appearance of Song Young-Chang (though his role in that film was more of a cameo). All of which could be a distraction, if not for Jung’s solid writing and the performances of his stars.
Kim in particular doesn’t overplay his role, making him as affable and as he is determined, while his doggedness is countered by his colleagues humour. He could easily be an older version of his character in Memories Of Murder. There’s a real sense of his moral character, of playing by the rules however much he wants to solve the case. As that pace that has increased over the first 20 minutes or so falls away, you realise that that is not where this film is going. You can tangibly feel Chung-Ho’s disappointment, as well as the desperation of Ha-Kyung, as he realises with just two hours to go he has run out of time.
Shortly after another girl is kidnapped when her grandfather (Song, Duelist, Nowhere To Hide, Nameless Gangster) literally turns his back for a second. Bearing too many similarities to the case 15 years earlier, Chang-ho once more gets involved in finding the child before it’s too late.
As the perpetrator on screen proves to be one step ahead of the police, countering and manipulating every move, so does Jung. There’s a playfulness that, even half suspected, will still dupe you when the films twist comes. Having displayed more than his fair share of technical flair – even the films title seems a conscious reference to the familiar filmmaking technique – it’s in the script that writer/director Jung Geun-Sub excels.
These characters seem three-dimensional, real; you care about them and what happens next, even if the films subject matter and detective work are hardly anything new. It’s in the quality of how he brings these topics to life, to ask what is morally right to ask for in retribution; skirting round that thorny and recurring motif of revenge. All the while building tension, without the need for action or fast pacing; accomplished mainly by the central ‘tricksy’ device the director uses.
An exceptional supporting cast includes Jo Hee-Bong, Yoo Seung-Mok, Lee Joon-Hyuk and Park Chul-Min. Perhaps the only sticking point for me is the casting of lead Uhm Jung-Hwa. Despite being exceptionally popular in Korea, that hasn’t prevented her appearing real stinkers like Bestseller. Though she really does throw her all into this role, I still find not completely… well, convincing.
While this film thrives off familiar tropes, it’s a cut above most that make it onto the big screen. A really deserving box office success blessed with more intelligence and craft than you often find in thrillers. Perhaps not revolutionary, but highly enjoyable.