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"M" Showcases Style Over Substance

2007/11/01 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

In the highly stylistic psychodrama "M", director Lee Myung-se explores a classic theme sought time after time by (particularly male) filmmakers here ― the haunting imprint of first love, romanticized in all its glory. Lee showcases one stunning mise-en-scene after another, but "M" proves to be a rather anticlimactic audiovisual experience.

It shows that throwing in all the visually pleasing ingredients available does not necessarily cook up a great movie.

Min-wu (Gang Dong-won) seems to have it all ― on top of being a best-selling author, he is blessed with good looks and a rich and beautiful fiancee (Gong Hyo-jin). But beneath it all, the poor guy is suffering from a serious case of writer's block and a family debt to take care of.

To make matters worse, Min-wu is seriously convinced someone is watching him and is plagued with daunting daydreams and hallucinations. But the writer manages to piece together fragments of the puzzle, which leads to something deeply buried in his heart: his first love Mi-mi (Lee Yeon-hee) who died 11 years before.

"M" is novel in its attempt to deconstruct the inner workings of Min-wu's mind. It depicts his spiraling mentality from both an observer's point of view and through direct enactment's of his delusions. He is literally chasing after mementos of his past in obscure alleyways, and his fiancee, like the viewer, finds his strange demeanor rather creepy, and you see recurring daydreams involving his obese publicist and obnoxious future father-in-law.

Sure, it's understandable that this guy is stressed out ― he's on the brink of tying the knot and is pressed by the looming deadline for his novel. But the film loses its climactic edge as it stuffs in too much, and it eats well into the first half of the movie.

The film takes viewers on a surreal journey where dreams become more compelling than reality and the past becomes infused with the present. Yet, as much as the fantastic quality of "M" is captivating, it's also causes its downfall, for the movie fails to provide a gripping tale to back up the fancy camerawork.

So concentrate hard and long enough and you might catch up.

Another regretful part of the movie is that it highlights a modern yuppie couple enjoying a high-end lifestyle rather than going deeper into the drowning relationship. And yet, the storyline (or lack thereof) melts in beautifully with the mellow music score, in particular its theme song "Mist" (angae). There is also a spectacular scene where Min-wu's hysterical state of mind is highlighted by erratic typing and Mozart's Symphony No. 25. "M's" stunning music video-like audiovisuals exceed the stylish cinematography of Lee's previous works "Nowhere To Hide" and "Duelist".

Gang Dong-won gives life to a charming character and isn't too terrible in embodying a sweet young high school student to an intellectual artist. Gong Hyo-jin is also intriguing while Lee Yeon-hee is the quintessential "first love", sweet, shy and innocent. But other characters are more like chic characters, such as an Aresene Lupin look-alike harbinger of death or a shady bartender. They just add a stylish touch to the movie, but nothing more.

The film created a stir in Busan earlier and had long been the talk the town, especially since its male lead Kang makes an appearance for the first time in about a year. The sensation followed through with a crowded press preview in Seoul recently and the early released music video featuring the movie's theme song by international pop star Boa.

Lee deserves much credit for experimenting with new ideas in "M", which makes you expect something with more substance next time to match his sixth sense for style.

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