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[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Murderer"

2014/01/11 | Permalink

In the film's opening shot Joo-hyeop (played by Ma Dong-seok) engages in an act of unmistakable brutality after an unexpected encounter. Granted, with a title like this, we're hardly expecting the man to give these people a big happy bear hug. But there's a sharp, vicious, sudden extremity to the man's attack that's frightening. The question is immediately begged of what makes a person perform an all out strike that cold and brutal.

Then that question gets ignored for awhile as we instead settle in on the budding friendship between middle school students Yong-ho (played by Ahn Do-kyu) and Ji-soo (played by Kim Hyun-soo). They're both suffering from traumas- Yong-ho is an introverted boy who loved making art, and is consequently not well-respected by the local bullies. Ji-soo's problems are a bit more extreme- she's had access to the same blood-curling violence we in the audience are exposed to in that first shot.

"The Murderer" very much treats its viewers as dispassionate observers. We never really identify with the fears and psychological state of the three lead characters so much as we just watch them, and slowly start to appreciate that the terrors they have concerning the world are not rational ones, and that it's ultimately quite unreasonable for us to expect any of these people to behave in a rational way.

The world in which these people live is a similarly dispassionate one. Decent people exist, to be sure, but ask yourself something. Does a borderline insane person trust in the existence of rational people to solve extreme problems? There's never any sense that this storyline will end particularly well- no imaginary happy ending we can strive for to just be lost at a last minute plot contrivance. So as characters take on increasingly desperate futile efforts to free themselves from the taint that consumes their souls...well, it doesn't end pretty.

The cast is to be commended for being able to embody this sense of illogic. Ma Dong-seok is wonderful as the titular murderer- never really clearly seen as a good person or a bad person, but rather someone who is operating according to a wholly alien logic of how the world works. This is a man utterly devoid of curiousity, because he knows that feeling never leads to anything pleasant for anybody, least of all him. The two child actors as well really shine in their sense of quiet desperation. Neither of them are strong enough or confident enough as people to engage in heroics, and they know it.

All of this combines to build an excellent sense of tension. Violent moments come and go in the blink of an eye, but it's the mounting fear that builds up to these scenes that really sells the sense of terror that director Lee Gi-wook is clearly aiming for. Some points of the storyline may come off as goofy- as far as this issue is concerned, I ask the reader to think about the kind of person you were like at the age of thirteen, how terrible at times the prospect of adulthood seemed, with only the promise of greater extremities to come. That's the kind of fear "The Murderer" aims to connect with more thrilling visceral impact of a violent suspense film- and to that end it works quite well.

Review by William Schwartz

"The Murderer" is directed by Lee Gi-wook and features Ma Dong-seok, Ahn Do-kyu and Kim Hyun-soo

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