Shown as part of the London Korean Film Festival, this tense thriller will have you biting your nails in suspense and crying out in frustration and horror.Released in 2008, as a dark and chilling tale it may not be to all tastes, especially those with a weaker disposition or a low tolerance for violence. However, for those familiar with Korean thrillers such as I saw the Devil and Oldboy this is a must see.
Please excuse the cheesy accent narrating, the Korean trailer had some spoilery shots.
Review: The film begins with Eom JoongHo (Kim YoonSeok), ex-detective turned pimp (a natural career profession obviously), wondering where all his girls are disappearing to. He suspects a rival is phoning up to hire them and then selling them on. Getting desperate because of financial troubles from his failing business, he forces one of his remaining girls, Kim MiJin (Seo YongHie), to go visit a client. MiJin is forced to leaver her young daughter alone in her flat and battle flu to earn money for her deprived daughter.The atmosphere and tone of the film are set by the dank, dark and rain soaked backdrop in which the film takes place. The tired and haggard JoongHo is obviously a lost soul, thrown off the force for shady dealings and somewhat lost in life, he soon becomes our anti-hero. MiJin is the long suffering mother, who is forced into a life she hates to care for her daughter.
As JoongHo slowly starts to piece things together, he believes that the client MiJin is going to meet is the one that is selling on his girls. Asking MiJin to go to the bathroom and text him the address when she arrives at the client’s house, JoongHo waits in his car in the area where his last girl went missing. As MiJin nervously follows the client into his house, who’s name is Je YoungMin (Ha JeongWoo), she makes sure to note the address. Quickly going to the bathroom and pretending to take a shower, she hurries to text JoongHo the address. The bathroom is a dirty and eerie looking place, with strange hooks attached to the wall and mould growing on the tiles. She sends JoongHo her message. Except there’s no signal. Stumbling to the window, she forces it open to find that there is a bricked wall behind. This is where her panic truly begins. Backing away from the bath, she sees a clump of bloody hair in the drain. It’s at this point where you really begin to feel very nervous for her. Seo YongHie is a superb actress, and in fact won best actress in the 2008 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. She portrays the rising panic of MiJin amazingly. MiJin composes herself and makes an excuse to YoungMin, saying she forgot something from the car. YoungMin calmly tells her that’s fine, all the while having his back to her. When MiJin reaches the door, she finds it padlocked. Suddenly, MiJin is struck from behind.
Meanwhile, JoongHo is trying to contact his old colleagues for help, however they’re preoccupied dealing with a slightly deranged man who’d thrown faeces at the Mayor of Seoul, and ignore his requests for help. When we next get back to MiJin, we find her waking up in the bathroom, tied up. YoungMin walks in in his underwear, with a bag of mean looking tools. Trying to scream against the gag in her mouth, YoungMin warns her the last woman had her tongue cut out for being too noisy. The cool and unflustered YoungMin is amazingly acted by Ha JeongWoo. You can see the soulessness behind his eyes, and his complete lack of empathy is outstanding. YoungMin begins to promise MiJin that she won’t feel any pain, and starts to try to take a chisel and hammer to the back of her head. This scene is so unbelievably tense – with every blow he misses, you become more wound up. It was at this point that a couple of people from the audience left, obviously realising this film wasn’t for them – I have to emphasise that some of the scenes will not sit right with some people. MiJin’s struggling causes YoungMin to hit his own hand, and he becomes so angry, he hits MiJin over the head to knock her out.
At this point, an elderly couple ring the doorbell, wondering where the owner of the house is as they haven’t seen him come to church for a few weeks. YoungMin denies knowledge of him, but when they recognise the dog in the garden as belonging to the rightful owner of the house, he is forced to come up with an excuse and invites them in. It doesn’t end well for them. While YoungMin’s driving the couple’s car in order to dump it, he crashes into JoongHo’s car at a crossing on a narrow street. JoongHo becomes suspicious of YoungMin when he says there’s no need to swap contact details for insurance, and soon notices that he has blood splattered across his shirt. JoongHo, after insisting YoungMin gives him his number, dials the number of the client that called for MiJin. YoungMin’s phone started to ring, and JoongHo immediately goes for YoungMin. JoongHo catches YoungMin and beats him while demanding to know who he sold his girls too. Handcuffing YoungMin, JoongHo takes YoungMin back to his car, but by this point there is a build up of other cars and police have arrived.
The police take both men into custody, believing JoongHo to have beaten YoungMin for no reason. After some questioning, YoungMin freely admits to having killed 8 girls. Stunned, the police call in more experienced detectives, who happen to be JoongHo’s ex-colleagues. At the start, JoongHo believes YoungMin to be making up the fact he’s killed before, but soon comes to realise the truth. The police have 12 hours to find evidence against YoungMin or he must be set free. JoongHo is determined to do whatever it will take to locate MiJin after YoungMin tells the police there’s a possibility she’s still alive. It’s at this point where the film lives up to its name. JoongHo must track down information about YoungMin’s past and the location of where he took MiJin, while the bumbling police continually ignore his clever ideas and hamper him in his efforts.
With many twists and turns, the pace is fast and unrelentingly, full of suspense and heart-in-your-mouth moments. It makes an interesting and clever change to already know who the murderer is, and this is one of the things that really makes this film unique. You root for JoongHo to find MiJin before the police have to let YoungMin free from lack of evidence. The climax of MiJin’s fate will have your hands on your face from tension, and the climax of the film will leave you feeling like a quivering wreck.
Class Report: I really enjoyed this film, but completely understand that this film is not suitable for everyone. The gore and violence shown would leave some people shocked. If you’ve seen other Korean films of the same genre (or other international films in the same vein), you’ll be accustomed to this. If you can cope with how graphic some of the scenes are, you’ll find a great plot that keeps you engaged the whole time. The characters are brilliantly written and acted, and the dialogue, atmosphere and music are all terrific. Don’t expect an ending where all the characters end up holding hands and having a cup of tea, as might be seen in a more Hollywood version, but instead prepare yourself for a roller-coaster ride of a film.
I give this film….
images from hancinema