Seven Days and Punished

One of my two for the price of one review today, linked somewhat thematically in that they are both thrillers that look at the effects of attempting revenge, but more so as they both make stylistic execution decisions that just do not really work.

We will start in Korea, with the troubled “Seven Days”. Somewhat cursed as a project when the initial Director was fired, and the proposed leading lady (Kim Sun-ah) walked away at the eleventh hour. In comes a new Director, and LOST’s Kim Jun-jin. She plays a very successful Lawyer, who apparently has never lost a case. She is a single mother, and one day her young child is kidnapped whilst at a School sports day. She then gets a message from the kidnapper, telling her to take on the appeal of a convicted murderer, and only success will have her child returned to her.

On the plus side, this is on the face of it a pretty enthusiastic and complex film, with plenty of twists and turns. Aided by a disgraced Policeman (Park Hie-sun, the best thing about the film), she uncovers a conspiracy behind the original conviction, but the actual facts of the case suggest that they actually did get the right man. Can she free the killer and save the day, and more importantly, her daughter?

Sadly, the film fails on a number of levels. The film tries hard to invoke the spirit of both the hyperactive and over saturated camera work of a Tony Scott film, along with an obvious desire to ape the US Crime Scene Investigation TV shows. The problem is that EVERY scene is done in the choppy handheld camera style with multiple edits. The viewer just gets seasick and confused, as pretty much every scene, whether the events being played out deserve it or not. The CSI aspect also runs aground, as it does not have the conviction to really concentrate on the trail of evidence, relying on some pretty haphazard ways of moving through the clues. In fact one clue is so fundamental, I can’t believe it was not picked up by anyone previously (this being the familial link between one of the suspects and the Chief Prosecutor).

Also, for a film of over 2 hours, it really struggles to examine some of the themes it brings up. The corrupt Policeman? Well that is all resolved in a matter of moments with a single document, the details of which are never explained. The idea that Kim Jun-jin can run fast? Bought up and never explored again. Even the twist reveal of the kidnappers identity happens far too late in the film, and whilst very interesting is given no time at all – in fact, the opportunity for a great reveal is actually just, well ignored. One scene between Kim Jun-jin and a potential witness is left utterly open ended, with just a few meaningful glances between some characters, which leaves you utterly unaware what the resolution of the previous 10 minutes was. It wants to draw a connection between Mothers and their children, but other than a few random scenes, it never gets the dialogue that it deserves. The B plot ends up being utterly unnecessary, which is a shame as it really is the more interesting storyline.

It’s not horrible, it is just really badly executed. There is a very interesting thriller somewhere inside here, and I can see why maybe it was bought for a potential US remake. At the end of the day, it is a typical US thriller with Korean faces, and therefore it ends up as the most mild of recommendations, if only because I could see what it could have been.

On the other hand, this years Hong King Thriller “Punished” takes a different path to jazz up the revenge thriller it has to tell. Rather than flashy camerawork, it decides to use a fractured and occasionally confusing timeline.

Anthony Wong (brilliant as ever, but then isn’t he always?), plays a very hard nosed Real Estate Kingpin, that runs his family with the same iron fist that he runs his business with. His Daughter Daisy (Janice Man) is a mix of spoilt brat and drug addict, who one day is kidnapped, and as we find out in the opening scene, dies as a result. Wong employs his bodyguard, Chor (Richie Ren), to track down those responsible, and exact the revenge.

Anyone who has been following this blog knows that this is the sort of film that I seem to have been watching a lot of over the last couple of years. A revenge thriller, involving characters that are murky shades of grey rather that easily defined heroes and villains.

The problem with the film, is really that not much happens in it – girl gets kidnapped, killed, and father seeks revenge.  With a tiny and rather unfulfilling twist at the end.  The film then tries to compensate by doing something that could have been clever, but ends up ruining any kind of dramatic tension.  You see, it starts with what would normally be the dramatic highpoint – the discovery of the dead girl.  And from then on, it really is nothing more than an exploration of a bunch of pretty hideous people.

Daisy is portrayed as a horrible spoilt, selfish brat, and at not time do you get to illicit any kind of sympathy for her.  In fact, no-one is particularly good at gaining the viewer’s empathy, even (the other) Maggie Cheung’s step-mother is obviously complicit in her husband’s rather violent business practices.   Which leaves us with only Richie Ren’s character to root for – which is hard, as although he cares about his son (and there is a lovely scene with Daisy), he really does do some quite awful things.

And then there is the villain of the piece(Lei Lam), who we finally get to some 70% way through the film.  The problem is, we never really find out who he is.  I don’t really know his motivations, he is nothing more than a face and a name.  Which is probably why we get an odd little coda with another character who is exposed as part of the conspiracy at the end – finally we meet someone that we can sort of understand, that we can see some hope despite her actions. 

But it’s not enough.  Other than yet another fantastic performance from Anthony Wong, there is so little to see here.  If we re-edit the film to make it more linear, it really is run of the mill stuff.  But by showing it’s hand so early, the film suddenly lacks any real tension.  The direction is OK, but even the couple of fight scenes fail to generate any real adrenaline.  It is far from offensive, but I am afraid you can find 10 or 20 films like this on this blog alone, all of which I would recommend to my loyal readership first.

So that’s two films that tried hard, in different ways, but ultimately failed.  Neither were utterly without merit, and they were far from offensive.  Coming up next though.. finally a candidate for a film of the year list!

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