H (2002)
Written and directed by Jong-hyuk Lee
Starring Jung-ah Yum, Jin-hee Ji, Seung-woo Cho, Sun-kyung Kim

Marketing geniuses have decided Americans are devoid of intelligence so they plainly state “Se7en Meets Silence of the Lambs” on the front of the box. Astonishingly, in this case they’re quite correct that these two American stalwarts of the psycho-killer thriller genre are the reference points. However the bold statement stops short and should have read “Se7en meets Silence of the Lambs but not nearly as good.”

Morgue

It’s raining, we’re in a city dump and a worker has just unearthed a corpse. The police arrive on the scene and Jong-hyuk Lee, who looks to be an actor making his first movie, throws more chips on the table when a detective stumbles over the blue body of a newborn. Lead homicide detective Mi Yun Kim (Jung-ah Yum who was made famous on this continent via her role as the Stepmother in A Tale of Two Sisters) is joined by her insolent new partner Tae-hyun Kang (Jin-hee Ji) who, through his inappropriate behavior and arrogant demeanor, quickly irritates the entire squad. Will they reach an understanding and be able to coordinate their police abilities to catch the brute who has left these mangled bodies?

Killer

Quick on the heels comes another grisly murder, as brazen as it is horrifying; a young pregnant woman and her fetus have parted ways with life. The crimes mirror those perpetrated by Shin Hyun (Seung-woo Cho), a serial killer who committed six inhumane acts before turning himself in to police and now waits for his reward on death row. Has he paid someone to continue his murderous rampage or is some inspired copycat killer loose on the streets of Seoul?

What follows is a convoluted series of twists and turns snaking down well worn paths. Detectives Kim and Kang pay a visit to Shin Hyun and find their questions rebuked by mysterious, mystical ramblings. They question Hyun’s psychiatrist (Sun-kyung Kim) who hides behind her ethical wall, smiling at the police’s defeat. Leads are uncovered and pursued but at times it’s not at all clear how these clues have been discovered. I found myself frequently wondering if the subtitles were poorly written, if the plot was full of holes or if I was too stupid to understand what was going on. The story continues bumbling down the rutted road heedless of my inability to follow the intricacies of police investigation.

Murder Scene

The characters are all bland studies of various genre stereotypes. Detective Kim is a lone wolf, propelled by some inner fire which at first I took to be the burning righteousness of a woman carving out her place in a man’s world but is soon revealed to be haunted by ghosts from the past. She stands nervously toying with an engraved lighter, pausing to collect herself before proceeding. What? Her fiance was the cop who originally caught Shin Hyun and then committed suicide?!? So troubled by the past she refused to speak to her partner or the other detectives unless absolutely required preferring to communicate by means of departmental slide-shows regarding the progress of the case. She should be consumed by this case, driven to solve the murders and finally be able to cleanse her conscience of not being able to help her betrothed, but Kim is sterile and dispassionate without an encyclopedic knowledge or cunning intuition to compensate.

Chase

Detective Kang is the fresh fish whose mistaken attempts to win over his new coworkers fail miserably. There is no talk of his past achievements, no consideration of what merits his inclusion on this case. He’s an impetuous twit incapable of behaving calm and rational when it’s most required. The squad leader is world-weary wearing tired eyes. He smokes incessantly and watches from the wings but never ventures forth to provide that crucial little pep-talk which would humanize him for the audience. There’s another detective who provides intermittent support for Kim and Kang, is a little chubby and and a little ruddy around the cheeks. His answer for every problem is to relax and have a couple drinks which, when they do relax and have a couple drinks, leaves him stuttering and stammering and patting people on the back telling them not to worry. Shin Hyun is a composite of cold-blooded killers who refuses to have a straight conversation and is impossibly perceptive to the point of being clairvoyant. I suppose the script intends for him to be as charming and sophisticated as Hannibal Lecter but there is a severe lack of talent at the helm. When his calm and calculated demeanor drives one of the cops to hit him I almost threw a shoe at the screen. When that detective later attempts to quit the case I really should have.

Basement

The blindly cobbled paint-by-numbers story isn’t the worst of this film’s problems. Huge leaps of logic dictate the direction of the investigation and these assumptions are never challenged by the room full of experienced detectives. Poor decisions such as having the rookie perform the first interview with the serial killer solo scream out in agony but the characters don’t seem to notice these blatant assaults on my intelligence. The conceit that these new murders are the result of someone being paid by the condemned prisoner is never shot down (how do condemned prisoners pay for things, or even see other prisoners?), nor is the investigative tactic to ignore the victims and focus on the incarcerated.

Prison

Stylistically this movie apes the modern-noir aesthetic of “Se7en”, but staggers drunkenly into “CSI” territory with alarming frequency. The Korean police department has the sexiest computer equipment this side of the military. Each crime scene is meticulously staged and filmed but the intervening shots of investigation and interaction between the detectives (which adds nothing to their persona by and large) might as well be from a television show. What’s most annoying is that several scenes from “Se7en” are actually re-created including the final sequence. Be sure to have plenty of shoes to throw when you watch this. The foley and post-production sound becomes a little ambitious at times but the worst audio gaffes are snatches of ill-conceived sentimental keyboard music which tries to put a lump in your throat by ramming a Casio down it.

Bus

Nearing the end of the almost two hour long affair I realized I was only engaged because I still had no idea what important developments propelling this case to its conclusion I had missed. The mystery becomes how the end will be tied together, not who the killer is, why they’re killing and how they’ve managed to elude police this entire time. In case you’re wondering you’ll need another shoe to throw when the story resolves itself in a typical flashback montage.

Tartan Video released this under its Asia Extreme division which means you can rent this on Netflix or whatever floats your boat. They provide a clean anamorphic widescreen transfer with 5.1 surround and Dolby stereo.

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