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'Beautiful Sunday' at the Park Inferno

2008/06/19 | 983 views |  | Permalink

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Park Yong-woo gives it all in a convoluted thriller

Kyu Hyun Kim (qhyunkim)

Well, here is another Korean movie that you suspect that the title (the Korean-language moniker, too, is the English phrase "Beautiful Sunday") was meant to be heavily ironic, given that it involves a police detective who gradually sinks into the cesspool of corruption and moral confusion in order to pay medical bills for his comatose wife, and an uber-creep who rapes a woman and then marries her later, hiding his true identity. "Beautiful Sunday", indeed.

Detective Kang (Park Yong-woo, "My Scary Girl", "Blood Rain") is making deals with scumbag drug lords, marked for death by his arch-enemy Sang-tae (Kim Dong-ha), falling asleep at a stakeout, and otherwise unraveling at the seams. His colleagues openly question his motives, and the sympathetic department chief can do only so much for him. In a separate stand of narrative, the movie follows a timid student Min-woo (Nam Goong-min, "A Dirty Carnival") who rapes a pretty girl Su-yeon (Wang Ji-hye, TV's "Beijing My Love") during a rainy night and then courts the traumatized girl, eventually getting to be his husband. These two strands are brought together in a "surprise twist" climax.

Newcomer director Jin Kwang-gyo's screenplay wins points for hutzpah and tactical skills, although it has more than its share of awkward clues and red herrings that don't quite add up in the end. Moreover, the "twist" ending, which would not be a big shock to anyone familiar with recent trends in the Korea-made thriller/horror films, is overdone, falling just short this side of becoming ridiculous. The basic idea is not bad, but frankly it has been done better in other Korean movies like "Spider Forest". I suppose we could give Jin some credit for attempting to incorporate this everything-is-not-what-it-seems trick into the police thriller genre.

Even though "Beautiful Sunday" assumes a clear moral position about the heinousness of the rape suffered by Su-yeon, it occasionally flirts with tastelessness by unimaginatively replicating cliches from melodramas and thereby casting a "romantic" veil over Min-woo and Su-yeon's courtship. Even though director Jin does depict Su-yeon's devastation and wrath upon learning the truth, she is still very much a foil for the male characters in the film to agonize over, and not a full-blown character endowed with her own humanity. Jin at least acknowledges infantilism and megalomania of macho Korean males in their "relationships" to women, unlike trying to make some Orientalist artistic statement out of them, as Kim Ki-duk has done over the years.

Park Yong-woo struggles mightily with an underwritten role but comes out with his dignity intact. Equpped with huge, sincere eyes and wide, expressive mouth, Park still never mugs for the viewer's sympathy for his character and his suicidal agony never strikes one as mere tantrum. Namgung Min was also an excellent choice for Min-woo, who makes the latter appropriately creepy, even when he has to spout embarrassingly "romantic" dialogues amid swooning background score.

The film's big weakness is that police procedural materials are badly paced and generally a drag. Director Jin seems to be a fan of Kitano Takeshi, as "Beautiful Sunday" references a few well-known scenes from "Sonatine" and "Hana-bi", but he fails to replicate the almost hypnotic rhythm found in Kitano's hyperviolent, existentialist dramas.

Overall, "Beautiful Sunday" is a moderately interesting psychological thriller and is worth watching for the fans of Park Yong-woo, one of those not-quite-media-star good actors doing more than their shares to sustain the Korean film industry.

☆☆☆
2008 OhmyNews
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