Another big summer movie from Korea, and starring another one of my favourite actresses Kim Ha-neul. Could this one raise the bar from the overwhelming feelings of adequacy and malaise I am getting from the Korean Film Industry this year? It’s a thriller, which raised hopes a little, but the overall idea is a tad hackneyed. Yet I always try to embrace a new film with an open mind – will my trust be rewarded, or once again betrayed?
In “Blind” (Or as I think the Korean title actually means “The Blind Witness”), we are introduced to trainee Policewoman Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul), who goes AWOL from training to pull her fellow orphan and as-good-as Brother from taking part in an underground dancing competition. In a fit of pique, she handcuffs him to the car, moments before they are involved in an accident. This accident results in the death of her “brother”, and damages Soo-ah’s retina’s leaving her blind. Skip forward three years, and we find her coping with her physical disability, but still haunted by the death she caused. One night she is picked up by a strange Taxi driver, who seems to have unhealthy designs on her, but another road accident saves her. However, she is awfully suspicious and tries to report this to an awfully disinterested Police Department. The case is assigned to Detective Jo (Jo Hie-bong), and unkempt out-of-town Detective who is struggling to make his name. Initially dismissive because of Soo-Ah’s blindness, he realises that she has picked up on other clues from her reliance on both her previous Police Training and heightened reliance on other senses. But just as the case seems to be moving somewhere, another witness turns up, Kwon Ki-sub (Yoo Seung-ho), a young angry punk kid, whose visual account seems at odds with that of our sightless heroine. Just as the case seems to be going nowhere, the mysterious taxi driver, actually a serial killer/rapist, decides to tie up the loose ends of Soo-ah and Ki-sub, leading to a game of cat-and-mouse.
I have some really mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand it is a well put together, well produced thriller. Kim Ha-neul puts in an excellent performance as our vision impaired heroine, mixing up her normal girl-next-door image with someone who is not only strong, but severely emotionally damaged. Not only that, but it does not play too hard on her heightened senses, ensuring that much is also made of her Police Training. The initial set-piece is good, and the central scene involving a chase through the subways assisted by iPhones is actually worth the price of admission alone. The character of Detective Jo is also a huge amount of fun – initially he seems to be a bumbling loner, but it becomes quite clear he is far more from the Columbo School of Detection – his unkempt manner and disarming charm actually hide a mind which is dogged and razor sharp. He does not need much convincing at all that there is merit in Soo-ah’s testimony.
Then again, it has some major faults. The final set piece just does not quite have the same amount of tension that it should – it not only feels old and by the numbers, but it also is a bit amateur when introducing a plot element – this is something which is introduced early on in the film, but rather than bring it out again when it would give maximum effect, we are clumsily re-introduced to it some 20 minutes before it becomes important again. The relationship between Soo-ah and Ki-sub is as subtle as a tin of spam (yes I get it – he is like her “brother”), and in fact the character of Ki-sub is awfully under developed, relying on the Yoo’ Seung-ho’s undeniable charm.
My biggest issue is with our Serial Killer. To be honest, I never really understood him. It is not that he is a total cipher – we do get to see him a lot – but I never once understood quite what he was doing and his motivations. Why would he pick up a girl he ran over in a car accident? Why would he draw attention to himself by attacking two witnesses that actually were simply cancelling each other out? For someone who is obviously very meticulous and careful, he makes an awfully large number of huge blunders. Worse though is the story problems with the character – when the Police work out his identity, it seems to me that he cannot possibly have the job he appears to have, given the fact he spent 4 years in Prison for an illegal activity (and yes, I am being rather obtuse as not to spoil, but if you watch it, you will know exactly what I mean).
Equally frustrating is that is obviously wants to go a little bit further than it is able to. There are a couple of scenes that nearly get creepy and graphic, but it pulls its punches. On the other hand, it does do something to one character, that I know just could not happen in a Western (and certainly a British) movie. I’m pretty certain at least one storyline has been severely edited too – there is an odd moment between a female Police Officer and Soo-ah that is suggesting a connection between the two that is neither hinted at previously, not taken any further.
And then there is one final thing that bugs me. It is explicitly stated very early on in the film that whilst Soo-ah would dearly love to rejoin the Police Force, and is stymied in her attempts to do so, it is not her blindness which is stopping this happening – it is rather her actions that led to the initial fatal accident. So whilst numerous characters keep mentioning to her that she should rejoin, she keeps this information to herself – I understand that, and adds to the depth of her character. Yet, in our One Year Later coda, everything seems to have changed. That just does not make sense.
I actually rather liked this – it is not horrible, and there was enough in here for me to get lost in despite all it’s faults. It is no “The Chaser” nor is it “I Saw The Devil”, but as a piece of Korean Popcorn, I think it is pretty good. Recommended, with reservations.