Sooner or later, in most serial killer stories, the serial killer needs to gain superpowers in order to remain a credible threat. With Gwang-il (played by Lee Jong-suk), that superpower is even dumber than usual. Gwang-il makes gratuitous messes everywhere he goes, and is easily identified as the culprit by the most trifling police work. It's only thanks to the inexplicable aid of high-ranking government officials, from North Korea to South Korea to the United States, that Gwang-il is a threat to anyone.
When "V.I.P" does finally explain why the intelligence services of at least three countries are willing to cover for an obvious serial killer...the explanation is really, really dumb. Even assuming Gwang-il actually has the information they want, he has no motivation to give it to them, since it would mean the end of his state-sanctioned murder sprees. It also has apparently never occurred to anyone to at least monitor Gwang-il well enough to prevent him from causing more public relations disasters.
But then every character in "V.I.P" is pretty appallingly stupid. Initially I thought National Intelligence Service agent Jae-hyeok (played by Jang Dong-gun) was supposed to be the villain, what with his covering up murders for a serial killer and also his working for the least popular subdivision of the South Korean government. Then we get a late scene where Jae-hyeok is shocked, shocked to discover that Gwang-il really was a serial killer all along.
Hardboiled police investigator I-do (played by Kim Myung-min) has at least average intelligence, since he does manage to conclude from a basic survey of evidence that Gwang-il is obviously a murderer. But that does not absolve Jae-hyeok from the idiocy of being too stupid to even consider that maybe I-do is right. Especially since we later find out that Jae-hyeok became Gwang-il's babysitter in obviously suspicious circumstances.
I can't for the life of me figure out what the point of "V.I.P" was supposed to be. It's not a mystery, since the first thing we see after the flashforward of the prologue is Gwang-il explicitly committing the murder. It's not a character study, since none of the four principles have any kind of relationship with each other. North Korean cop Dae-beom (played by Park Hee-soon) spends almost all of his screentime hiding in shadows. So what's left?
Well, there is the gratuitous murder scene. Come to think of it, remove that one generally disgusting scene and all of a sudden it's ambiguous whether Gwang-il is actually a serial killer or if Dae-beom is just working with the North Korean government to make it seem like he is for their own inscrutable purposes. Such framing would have made Jae-hyeok's skepticism seem less patently idiotic, as well as give "V.I.P" some badly needed dramatic tension.
But then this movie that is flawed beyond the level that can be solved by a few rewrites. Lee Jong-suk is fantastically miscast as the sinister serial killer- his only facial expressions here are vague disinterest and wide-eyed crazy person bravado. It's bad enough that Gwang-il is a stereotypical serial killer. That there's nothing backing up his reign of terror is just plain offensive.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "V.I.P""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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