I have enjoyed a lot of the work of writer/director Jang Jin, although to be fair, mostly in terms of his work as a writer. He seems to be a bit of a polymath (specifically as a playwright), and I think this may have affected my enjoyment of this film.
“The Quiz Show Scandal” (and it has not made it to IMDB yet, so no links or actors names today) is a good old fashioned ensemble piece. Various characters are involved in a car accident, which leaves a pedestrian dead. They are bought to a Police Station, where it eventually is worked out that the deceased is a question writer for a popular TV game show – and that a USB Memory Stick found on her contains the answer to the last question for the next show. As the show has never been won outright, there is a lot of money at stake, so all the characters resolve to use this information to enter the quiz – and hopefully win all the money! But is this the scandal in the title? Or is it actually that the quiz itself may well be rigged!
The film is populated by loads of actors that I recognise from various Korean films and Dramas, with no-one really standing out as a star. This is good, as it means my eye is not distorted by a particular Star’s performance. However, it also counts against the film, as there are so many characters, not one of them really gets a satisfactory character arc. We have a couple of rather incompetent underworld fixers, a depression self-help group, a family on the edge of collapse due to the father’s gambling, another family where the wife is in a coma, plus a motorcycle delivery boy.
The structure of the film feels like a four act play. Act one is a short series of vignettes, introducing us to most of the characters, leading up to the accident. This was the most successful part of the film for me, occasionally very funny indeed. The second act is less successful – the character spend an interminable amount of time in the Police Station, whilst their evidence is gathered. It is the most “play-like” segment, and for me rather unsuccessful – little is gleaned about most of the characters here, it is basically 30-45 minutes of people shouting at each other. Act three is a short one, where the characters all bone up on trivia, in preparation for the quiz, and again, this is fun. The final act is the Quiz itself, which whilst interesting, fails on two levels for me.
You see, the pedant in me wants to take the Quiz Show itself at face value. The show we watch on the TV seems to be pretty much a general knowledge kind of deal. The characters spend a good deal of time learning trivia and facts and figures. Yet when we get to the show itself – well the questions seem to be more cryptic in nature, and one round is just the characters asking their own written down questions. Now, for me, I want a tad more consistency around the central element of a film. However, I also get that a lot of this is just a mechanism for exploring the minds of our characters, so whilst I am disappointed – I do get it.
The second level of failure is the lack of closure we get in the character arcs. Some characters are just written out completely (like the mobile phone salesman), so are given rather trite reasons to be written out of the story (the depressed schoolgirl and the delivery boy were bickering because they fancied each other? Well sure that’s fine, but it is a little obvious, and there were much more interesting things to be done with the girl especially). I could go on, but I think I would be labouring the point. I spend two hours with people, I want to know a little more about them. Possibly the problem is that there are two many characters, and not enough time is spent getting around to actually exploring them properly. That being said – the best laughs actually come from those that are hardly in the film at all (a brilliant sequence with a Taekwondo expert, and another with a the Drunk man from the Police Station are highlights).
And then there is the ending.
Now I wrote a play once. It was produced and performed an everything. Nothing major, but I was a little proud. Except I was constrained by time, and I was a youthful 17 year old. And I didn’t really know how do finish it. So I ended with a rather unsatisfying fist fight. Which is exactly what Jang Jin does here. And that I am afraid is even more unsatisfying. Nothing is resolved. And it sums up my whole frustration with the film. It feels unfinished. Maybe I am not smart enough, but I just don’t understand what is trying to be said here. It’s not funny enough to be taken as just a silly comedy. It obviously is trying to be a little deeper and cleverer and frankly more witty than that. But for me it fell so far short.
There is enough here to render the film Mildly Recommended, but that’s about it.