Running time: 106 mins
Director: Jong-hyuk Lee
Starring: Jung-ah Yum, Jin-hee Ji, Ji-ru Sung, Seung-woo Cho
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
When a crazed serial killer walks into the police precinct which is hunting him and gives himself up you would assume that the case is over. This is, unfortunately for Detectives Kim (Yum) and Kang (Ji), not the case as one year later a spate of copycat murders begin leaving them revisiting old wounds and killer Shin Hyun (Cho) in order to get a sense of the case again.
South Korean cinema is one of the most innovative and fearless national cinemas out there, directors like Chanwook Park (Oldboy, Thirst & Lady Vengeance) and Hong-jin Na (Chaser, and The Yellow Sea) are setting out their stalls for what must be the must see movement of the moment. Jong-hyuk Lee’s directorial debut H takes it cue from the well established obsessed cop/serial killer genre that in
has proven a little tired of late but in Asian cinema is filled with promise of twists, turns and genre defying narratives. Hollywood
H promises all that has become expected from South Korea cinema, it opens brutally with the sweep of a crime scene in one of the cities many waste dumping grounds on a murder victim (some ten months after the initial series of murders) who has been savagely strangled and had her stomach “ravaged” for lack of a better word, in the midst of going through the routine of investigating the crime scene is when they find the baby and everything begins to feel just a little familiar for the detectives. Jung-ah Yum is a wonderful choice for your lead detective, many tv and film dramas of late have been deploying the strong, almost masculine, female detective and whether it’s Yum or either Scandinavian or American versions of Sarah Lund/Linden there’s no Asian actress better suited and more believable in the role. Her strength in front of the camera and strong silences are tinged with the slightest hint of guilt and sorrow. Kim, like all good detectives, had a hunch about the original case, a hunch she ignored to others misfortune. She was one of the best performances in A Tale of Two Sisters and is, once again, excellent as Kim. H introduces (then newcomer) Jin-hee Ji as the intense detective Kang, who’s hell bent on putting this case to rest for once and for all. Ji’s performance draws several comparisons to the passionate performance of Brad Pitt (in Se7en) which is not surprising but is a bit of a disservice to the actor. His performance is filled with little moments of darkness and light and the actor battles against raw emotion. The supporting case all perform admirably, especially Seung-hoo Cho (convicted killer Shin-Hyun) though he does owe more than a passing nod to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector as he acts with a capital ‘A’. The remaining supporting cast are the typical detective supporting case better known as loosely drawn and un-fleshed out characters who’s sole purpose is to drive the narrative and clear up exposition (more film needs them).
The cinematography is solid enough, never flashy or complicated enough to deserve any real critique though the mini chase through the rainy streets and the ever moving sea of umbrellas was down remarkably well and is reminiscent of something between a Busby Berkley musical and the sort of cat and mouse sequences perfected by Paul Greengrass’ Bourne installments. The soundtrack of the film is, like the film itself, at odds with itself. There are moments when the lullaby-esque score is disturbed by an unwelcome high pitched screech that yanks the audience straight out of the film and is quite difficult on the ears to stomach. Fortunately the happens infrequently enough that it’s not that much of an issue, though what was going through the composers and directors combined heads to keep these moments in is beyond understanding.
The film seems to be one of two halves, the first hour (perhaps slightly more) is a well grounded and level headed detective movie that’s exceptionally earthy. The use of the copycat motif allows them to explore a narrative that predates the opening of the film and allows the audience to discover more of the players in the film than simply the narrative. It also adds a level of stress to the film that straight up “murder book” movies doesn’t have as, unlike the detectives from these other films, they know what’s coming. Unfortunately the level headed realm of the film is extracted and replaced by a lot of unconvincing and downright wrong pseudo science that is building towards the obvious twist. Asian cinema, or at least those exported to western audiences, seem to have an over-reliance on the final reel twist that is ultimately the undoing of a vast majority of the films. A twist is only a twist, after all, if you don’t see it coming. Unfortunately the twist in H can be telegraphed a mile away, I was able to successful call it only five minutes into the film and was slightly saddened to be proved right. The problem lies in the fact that so much of the film is regurgitated from many other, superior, films meaning that like any good motorway you can see the signs for the turns and changes in direction and speed long before they’re upon you.
H is, by no means, a terrible film and it seems odd that director Jong-hyuk Lee has been quiet ever since release as technically it was a very well accomplished and constructed film. The problem with the film lies with the screenplay (also Jong-hyuk Lee’s work) and the fact that as mysteries go there’s nothing new here for audiences who have ever walked a beat, opened a cold case or stepped into an interview room with their favourite screen detective.