2012/02/04 | 889 views | Permalink |
My exposure to Korean court case thrillers has been somewhat lacking since my investigation into their film industry began. Law and order, or at least the perceived existence of it, is a common point of departure for a lot of Korean films, but few tackle or focus on the theatrics of the courtroom. Sohn Young-sung's "The Client" is a new experience to me in this way as a Korean court case is played out with, unfortunately, little expressed knowledge of the genre and its need for internal logic and believability.
Many viewers will already have a concrete schema of what elements are necessary in order for a courtroom drama to be deemed worthwhile or even plausible. Logical consequences and probability are huge factors in any courthouse conflict and the degree to which the viewer accepts or rejects the filmmaker's premises or sequences of events is key to not only enjoyment, but also our understanding and acceptance of the story as a whole. Shows like "CSI", "Bones", and others have sensationalised the investigative side of criminal prosecution, and in doing so they have set a sturdy, if not unrealistic, precedent of what consumers are willing to accept or reject as probable or improbable.
Even if we are not familiar with the law and all its intricacies, we can formulate a pretty strong bases for judgement on whether or not a story follows the internal logical established by a specific genre and the visual medium that is film. This knowledge is adequate for the viewer but a filmmaker needs to go beyond this knowledge if he/she wishes to actually create a successful story within a specific genre. The tools of perception and those of creation are drastically different in terms of not only sending and receiving, but also to the degree to which one's competencies and sense of agency is practiced within each of these roles. One could be a fan of a particular genre and might even be highly knowledgeable about that genre's conventions, signs and codes. However, these are tools of perception and do not necessarily equip one to be able to create. A deeper and more fundamental knowledge is required in order to play the architect.
Let me just say that I was almost stop watching this film before the main title appeared in screen. I was aware of the type of film I was about to watch but, with that expectation, I was truly stunned at the level of improbability and inappropriateness of the film's opening sequence. It's intent was clear but it manifested itself in such a way as to not lightly challenge my understandings of courthouse thriller, but shatter my suspension of disbelief as logic and believability where sacrificed at the alter of falsified characterisation and melodramatics.
I shook off this initial hiccup on the bases that it would almost be considered absurd to total reject the film before even seeing where the story was going. I am not opposed to the notion that the "primacy effect" could have been at pay here, but the rest of the film did very little to compensate for the film's initial burst of directorial self-indulgence and the obese red herring it presented.
As the clash between prosecutor Ahn Min-ho (Park Hee-soon) and defense lawyer Kang Seong-hee (Ha Jeong-woo) played out there was acres of narrative space that was starved in favour of unbalanced character development and emotional saturation. So focused was this film's goal that the very genre in which it exists was compromised to point of no return. Again, logical is a necessary troll in film, and especially courthouse thrillers, and when its role is subverted within the actual story itself, its unforgiveable. Cinematically speaking the film is solid enough, but the characters, their actions, and the events that following are so crippled by an unyielding need to dramatize relationships that the events surrounding them are reduced to nothing more that rusty narrative hinges.
"The Client" disappointed me on the highest level. It's list of failings extent far beyond this brief review as time after time I was snapped out of any magic spell the film tried to conjure. I don't personally feel that the actors are primarily to blame here as most of the front line actors' performances were quite convincing and appropriately emotive. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they were almost the saving grace of the film. There were a number of scenes, however, where I was amazed that this character was acting or saying this things they were, as if forced to adhere to the scripts faulty sense of storytelling and purpose. I enjoyed their performances but their roles within the film were subjected to a barrage of ill-considered dramatics that countered any good sense of who they where and why their were acting the way they were.
I find it impossible not to question Sohn Young-sung's decisions in this film. His gripon the material itself was shown to be no better than the average crime thriller fanatic. Practical knowledge of the genre was lacking, as events were loosely stringed together without consideration for the flow and internal consistency of the film as a whole. The film might have had a kernel of great idea in the start but its execution was clumsy and all too forgettable. Sohn Young-sung's "The Client" tried to present the viewer with a clever and interesting plot, sadly though, when attempts at genius fail its embarrassing opposite seems to get noticed more.
-C.J. Wheeler ([email protected])
Available on DVD from YESASIA
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Client": It was the Rope in the Colonel Mustard with the Living Room!"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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