By Lee Hyo-won
Physical disabilities craft the most interesting protagonists and the edgiest thrillers. Characters readily fall into dangerous traps, simple cat-and-mouse chases become complicated, and viewers sigh with a greater sense of relief when they manage to escape despite the odds.
There have been films such as "Mute Witness", "Wait Until Dark" and "Julia's Eyes", and Korean cinema finally sees new possibilities for the genre in Ahn Sang-hoon's "Blind", in which a visually impaired young woman must deal with a serial rapist-killer.
Yet "Blind's" greatest selling points are at times its greatest weaknesses, but the winner of the Producers Guild of Korea's 2009 Hit by Pitch only demonstrates the potential for more exciting domestic cinematic experimentation.
Box office sales are adequately promising, given Koreans' propensity for homespun fare, with additional interest from neighboring Asian countries and overseas markets.
Kim Ha-neul, usually limited to playing spunky romantic comedy heroines or frail innocent types, challenges herself anew as Su-a, who lost her sight three years earlier in a car accident. One rainy evening, while traveling without her guide dog Seul-gi (Dali of the "Heart is..." series), she climbs into a cab. Along the way the taxi driver hits something, and insists that it's just a dog. When Su-a isn't convinced she tries to examine the situation herself, but the driver loads the victim into the trunk and drives away.
Su-a reports the hit-and-run to the police. They are reluctant to believe her, and here the film tries to make a point that the physically disabled can be apt witnesses. The human rights approach gives more strength to Su-a's character and elicits emotional responses from viewers. But at the same time, by straying from the main theme of the story, the entertainment value suffers.
In the three years since losing her sight Su-a's other senses have sharpened, and she tries to prove that her perception can be of use. Yet Su-a, not surprisingly, was a policewoman, albeit for a short while, prior to her accident. This past experience gives her more credibility, in addition to her display of keen sensibilities.
She gives an intelligent account of what she remembers, though in a version she believes is right, as typical of thrillers. Here the dramatic tension starts building up and Heui-bong (Jo Heui-bong), the police officer that had been questioning her, immediately asks her to accompany him in the investigation. They are no Holmes and Watson but the unlikely duo make a pretty good team as the policeman acts as Su-a's eyes.
The protagonist's testimony serves as key evidence for a serial case of missing college women - immediately the viewer becomes enticed to believe, alongside Su-a and her partner, that a psychopathic cab driver is kidnapping, raping and killing one young woman after another.
But a delivery boy, Gi-seob (Yoo Seung-ho), comes forth as a second witness with a completely different version of the incident. He could be just after the cash reward for witnesses, and his testimony sees the film take a different turn. In no time the smart, sensitive and super creepy killer notices that both Su-a and Gi-seob know too much information, and begins stalking them with lethal weapons at his disposal.
"Blind" is a finely crafted movie. Gi-seob's appearance is a conventional element and the dynamics between him and Su-a should have been more compelling. Ahn opted to give a more melodramatic spin to their relationship, as Su-a lost her younger brother in the car accident three years ago and thus sees her kid brother in Gi-seob. This certainly dispels some of the thrills, but at the same time leaves sentiments that resonate with viewers long after the credits roll.
Now showing in theaters. Distributed by NEW, the film is rated 18 and over and runs 111 minutes.
Two-and-a-half stars out of four.
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