Beware old acquaintances in director Kim Yong-woon’s feature debut…
Taking a real event as inspiration, director Kim Yong-woon’s debut feature is an effective suspense thriller with a point of difference: it largely takes the perspective of the perpetrator as much as it does the victims. It stars Hong Soo-ah in the lead as the protagonist – a character that rather counters the bubbly roles that helped make her name on TV comedies and dramas such as Nonstop in the 00s – and Lim Seong-eon (No Doubt), equally better known for her TV work.
When Eun-jung (Lim Seong-eon) bumps into old college friend Ga-in (Hong Soo-ah) by chance, could the answer to her prayers. A qualification in childcare and some free time on her hands, Ga-in seems like the perfect person to look after Eun-jung’s daughter Seo-ah (Kim Ha-yoo) while she’s at work and her mother’s away.
Though Eun-jung’s husband Woo-jin (Yang Myoung-heon, The Attorney, Blades Of Blood) has some misgivings, she’s happy to let her into her life. In Ga-in’s eyes Eun-jung has everything she wants most, a loving husband (who she obviously had an affection for back in college) and daughter, in their own apartment. But it soon becomes apparent that Ga-in is not being completely honest about her life since they last met, and her situation as a live-in PA to a CEO (who considers her fair game if his actual girlfriends ignore his drunken advances). When Ga-in’s behaviour becomes increasingly strange, even borrowing Eun-jung’s clothes to play good wife when Woo-jin comes home, Eun-jung continues to ignore the warning signs.
Right from the beginning (and the rather beautiful, if distracting, Saul Bass-esque opening titles) director Kim Yong-woon does a fine job of ramping up the unsettling atmosphere of the film, with a score to match. From the very moment we first meet her, the mental state of Ga-in is put into question; her appearance is all Fan Bingbing heavy eyeliner, perfectly-spoken Mandarin (possibly sly references to her recent career in China) and pent up rage. In what is obviously a showcase role for Hong Soo-ah’s abilities beyond the more frivolous parts she’s played, she does a fine job of making this off-kilter character sympathetic, but there’s only so far she can go here.
Quite deliberately the story, scripted by Hwang Mi-hyun, gives no real justification for Ga-in’s murderous actions – the true-life events that inspired the film came in 2003, when a woman killed a longtime friend and two young children in a fit of jealousy. Of course, in terms of narrative that’s problematic. Port Of Call, which focused on a similarly needless murder inspired by real life, worked because it was seen through the eyes of a protagonist who could not understand the pointlessness of it all.
This isn’t helped when Kim Yong-woon can’t quite seem to decide who the lead protagonist of the film really is, leading us in one direction and then another. The balance just seems off. It’s of course hardly the first time that we’ve been put in the killer’s shoes, think Psycho or Peeping Tom, but those films gave us something else to concentrate on, and gave us more reason for their psychosis. It also doesn’t help that certain strands are left hanging, the mysterious man (played by Hyun Bong-sik) seen hanging around the children’s park and later seemingly chasing Eun-jung on her way home. Dropped and unreturned to, it might well be a red herring, but since we as the audience already know who to be wary of, it seems an unnecessary complication.
If spoilers are not already inherent, it all leads to a dark and daring finale, perhaps even for a Korean film. For a modest production Kim Yong-woon does well with performances and pacing. The end result may lack the narrative drive to bring it home, but it’s a decent first feature film and promising start to Kim’s directorial career.