This movie…oh my goodness, this movie. I love it, though maybe for the wrong reason.
Available on…uh…Youtube…but it adds several minutes at the end to make it look like it is almost 2 hours, but it is approximately 99 minutes.
Murder Murder Murder.
Kang Byung, the owner of a fitness gym, has been stabbed several times. And his throat was badly cut. While the police are investigating the crime scene, the late Kang gets a call from his sort-of girlfriend, a club singer named Jung Mi-sook. Detective Cho Kyung-yoon is sent to interview her as well as take a strand of her hair to take to the lab. However, she gets exonerated almost immediately, as the test results for the hair at the crime scene reveal that the killer was a man. Due to the presence of Kang’s semen at that scene, the detectives conclude that Kang Byung was homosexual.
Kyung-yoon goes to the gym, along with the quite homophobic Detective Kim. They focus on Bae Jay, one of Kang’s employees who was very close to him and whose blood type was the same as the murderer’s. Later on, Kyung-yoon returns to the gym with his partner, Park Eun-ju, to keep an eye on Bae Jay. After, Kyung-yoon and Eun-ju banter for a bit about her lack of a love life, Kyung-yoon leaves.
First, he goes to visit Sue at her…embroidering shop. Sue is his girlfriend, but is growing more distant from him, and says that she is considering breaking off the relationship after she heard him saying another woman’s name in his sleep. Then he goes to visit another woman, Lee Hae-suh. They had not seen each other for over 10 years and she has had a daughter since then. Is she his daughter? Well…
Back at the station, Detective Kim tells the Chief that Kang’s friends insist that he was not gay, despite the probability that he had sex with the man who would kill him. As the detectives try to wrap their heads around this, one of them receives a call from a rape victim who had contacted them before.
Kyung-yoon, Eun-ju, and another detective go to a hotel room with the rape victim for a sting operation. Hiding in the closet, Kyung-yoon asks Eun-ju what she thinks about Sue. She thinks that Sue is not bad, but had figured Kyung-yoon to be gay until he fell in love with Sue at first sight. Oh, the rapist arrives and they arrest him. Kyung-yoon assaults him after he yells at them for interfering with his relationship and Eun-ju has to pull him off, even though she had hit the guy first. Or maybe she used the situation as an excuse to get up in Kyung-yoon’s face. By now, it is obvious that she has harbored a crush on him for years, but neither of them have acknowledged it.
The detectives visit Mi-sook at her home to tell her about Bae Jay and Kang Byung. She insists that Jae Bae is not gay, as she had been sleeping with him every day. The detectives arrive at his place not long afterwards and arrest him. They catch him in bed with another man, by the way. During the interrogation, Bae admits to going to see Kang after seeing Mi-sook, but had not originally told them that in order to avoid the type of homophobic abuse that Detective Kim is currently subjecting him to. He says that Kang was his friend. When Kim asks if he means boyfriend, he angrily shouts that he means friends from the army. Jay immediately regrets saying that. Eun-ju bursts in during one of Kim’s assault-fests and says that the forensic evidence has just come in and absolves Jay. Jay then threatens all of them, particularly Kim.
While the detectives are trying to recover from this embarrassment and maybe try to see how Jay might still be involved in the murder, Jay goes back to the gym…and gets murdered. His murder leads the detectives to look into his time in the army, and they lock onto another probable suspect…someone whom Kung-yoon once knew.
I had a bit of an odd experience watching this movie. During the first half or so, it seemed like your average crime procedural movie, gussied up a little with creepy music and artsy-fartsy sequences to make it seem more like Euro-shlock than Asian Extreme. I got a little bit of the feeling that it would eventually turn into some kind of horror movie or something, which did not really sit well with me. All in all, I found it to be kind of boring. Then, at some point during the second half of the movie, it started to become clear that it was something else entirely. And that the pretentious stuff was not meant to distract from boring material, but to cover over something that was ridiculously outlandish. So, for a good quarter of the movie, I got annoyed at how stupid it was getting. But, then the movie went from awkwardly tone-deaf to jaw-droppingly baffling. When all was revealed, I could not help but collapse into laughter. They took an already stupid twist and doubled down on it.
From a narrative standpoint, the ending of this movie is not the craziest that I have ever seen. Not by a longshot. In fact, I am pretty sure that I had seen a similar thing before. What makes it stand out is the lead-up and the presentation. The movie could have theoretically taken the totally lurid exploitation route that I thought that it might take in the beginning, and the ending would have just been the last piece of shocking whatever. Ho hum, how lurid and silly. However, the movie gradually emphasized the more emotionally dramatic aspects of the story instead, so that the ending was given the standard South Korean tearjerker treatment. As if they were serious about this and wanted me to take it seriously too. And I was not having any of it.
Perhaps…theoretically…there are ways to interpret the reveal that makes it less out there. There is an interpretation involving the leaps of science in a specifically South Korean context. There is one about our own personal blind-spots that psychologically prevent us from accepting the obvious due to the consequences of doing so. Maybe it is meant to be more of a hyperreal allegory for the struggles that people from marginalized communities face and what they lose by trying to adhere to the norms of a mainstream society that is willfully neglectful and abusively hostile towards them. There is a heart in this movie and it tried; it really did. It may resonate with viewers, either despite its out there storyline or because of it. So, is it me who is being tone deaf in viewing this movie? Am I looking at it all wrong in my mockery? I suppose that maybe I could let go of my own biases, to approach this movie on its own terms and, instead of taking the story literally, try to dig deeper to into its thematic poetry to let that emotional core reach inside me. But…I don’t know. It is just several steps too far for me to take it seriously.
The movie not changing its tone suggested that the makers either did not notice that the story had gone totally off the rails or they tried to pretend that it had not in order to salvage what was left of it. Or maybe they really did not believe that the movie was getting nutty and felt that the ending was perfectly valid, if maybe only slightly improbable. Coupled with a certain dramatic scene that featured one of the actors doing something that that same actor would do in a comedic television show three years later, I found the ending to just be comedy gold. Okay, so that last part was not the fault of the movie and may have been sheer coincidence or a parodic reference. But I saw the show first, so it was too much for me.
I went from not particularly caring for this movie one way or another to loving it for the wrong reasons; one of those “so bad that it’s good” deals. At the same time, I was not sure if this love would hold up to a second viewing. The stupid reasons for my loving the movie could easily curdle and turn into loathing. After all, the reveal really is quite stupid in my opinion. I had held off rewatching it for a while because I did not want to ruin that happy memory of its glorious stupidity. When I finally got around to watching it again, though, it not only held up for me, but I found it to be much more enjoyable the second time around. Knowing what I was watching and what to look for, could better engage the movie on its own terms. Oh, everything that was bad about it was still bad, but I could actually stay inside the movie instead of laugh at it from the outside. Maybe the artsy pretentiousness of it and the psychological element of it got to me and kind of allowed the parts that I thought were laughably terrible to be their own justification…or something. I cannot explain it. I had expected the stuff that hilariously did not work for me the first time around to come across even worse…but it actually worked. I am not saying that I necessarily got it the second time around, but I definitely got something more out of it from a second viewing, I am just not sure what. Like, I felt that I was enjoying it in a way closer to the way that the creators intended me to. I am not saying that you will, it may still be boring/terrible. And maybe it should have been for me…but it wasn’t.
I don’t know. This movie did something for me. The wrong thing, but something. It might not for you…but it did for me. And, maybe I was not the best person to judge this movie. Maybe it will do the right thing to you and you will love it in a deeper way; a way that I could not.
WTF ASIA 48: The Lunchbox (India: 2013, approx. 105 minutes)
WTF ASIA 49: Linda Linda Linda (Japan: 2005, approx. 115 minutes)