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'Our Town' Deconstructs Murder

2007/11/22 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Unlike what its title might suggest, director Jeong Gil-yeong's "Our Town" is not some fuzzy family drama. It's a crime thriller where five women are brutally killed. Not another serial killer story, you may say. But, again, the film kills your expectations as it takes you on a novel cinematic experience ― a flight into the mind of not one, but two, killers on the loose in what could be "our" neighborhood.

First off, the title needs some explanation. It is a literal translation of the original title "Uri dongne". A Los Angeles Times column (July 24, 2006) once highlighted how the Korean language thoroughly reflects the collective nature of Koreans, who prefer the unassuming "we" over the individual "I", and thus leads to the stapling of group pronouns "our" (uri) rather than "my" in front of objects. So saying "our house" or "our town" creates a communal sense of ownership and establishes a sense of mutual connection.

That's the irony. This is a violent and disturbing murder story that is definitely not for children ― so the "our" part doesn't work there. And yet, the movie suggests such horrors can happen next door.

In a quiet, ordinary neighborhood, three women and a young girl are "crucified", with their dead bodies tied up in the form of a cross in public areas. Kyeong-su (Oh Man-seok), a struggling novelist, impulsively kills his landlady during a nasty quarrel over rent. With the recent happenings around town, he conveniently covers up his crime as the doings of the serial killer.

Kyeong-su's childhood buddy and police officer Jae-sin (Lee Sun-kyun) begins to suspect the fifth victim was a copycat case. Meanwhile the actual chain killer, Hyo-i (Ryu Deok-hwan), begins to track down his mimic.

This isn't a conventional cat-and-mouse game between the police and murderer. The movie immediately reveals the who, what, when, where and how, and the action feeds upon the disquieting why part as the systematic murderer and impulsive killer trail each other's paths.

Even the most hardened of crime thriller fans will be able to taste something new, as the suspense is rooted in the mind game between two murderers. And it's more daunting yet as the story takes place within the context of a neighborhood.

Hyo-i is the great guy next door. He's the helpful owner of a small stationary store and has the face of an angel. Kyeong-su is also an ordinary guy, but can apparently commit murder when cornered. It shows how, in a spur of the moment, one can give into one's darkest desires and bestial urgencies.

What the movie does is play with the human thought process, the stark difference ― or lack thereof ― between imagination and reality, wanting to kill and the actual act of killing.

In one scene, the murderer makes a girl sing a song, but still takes her life with a smirk: "It's just technique, nothing genuine" (obviously he's not happy with the singing). Lee Moon-sae's good old love song is juxtaposed with the inhuman act, making it even more harrowing. It suggests the psyche of the psychopath, someone who kills for the sake of killing without a vengeful motive.

But unlike psychopath films like "Black House", the movie deals with more " humane " murderers and does a decent job of portraying the aftermath of a trauma and the copycat effect on individuals. "Our Town" is an unsettling psychological drama that shows how the act of killing becomes a source of emotional release and rapture for the shattered soul. It deserves some comparison to Jean Giono's novel/film "Un Roi sans divertissement" (1963).

Although some of the highly dramatized, crisscrossed relationships in the film are slightly cliched, the bona fide actors ― theater stars Oh Man-seok and Lee Sun-kyun who have recently been giving stellar appearances on TV and rising star Ryu Deok-hwan ("Like a Virgin") ― give gripping, and disturbing, performances. These are neighbors you definitely don't wish for.

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