Time to travel back to 2001 and a period of South Korean Cinema which is regarded by some to be somewhat of a Golden Age. I thought I had mined most of the films from this period, but one of those scary Amazon Recommendations delivered up this little horror/thriller that I had never even heard about. Not being aware of it is probably a sign of quality, but on the other hand, not too many Korean films from this period actually have a UK R2 release, so I wondered if it had some merit. I was aware of director Kim Sung-hong’s subsequent movie “Missing”, which had great production values but was uncomfortably misogynistic. The 8 year gap between the films is interesting, which further piqued my interest.
“Say Yes” follows the adventures of recently married couple Jeong-hyun (Kim Ju-hyuk) and Yun-hie (Choo Sang-mi). Aspiring novelist Jeong-hyun has some good news about getting that first novel published, so he rather recklessly purchases a new car, and takes his translator wife on a little trip to the sea to celebrate their first anniversary. On the way they encounter the rather creepy Em (Park Joong-hoon), initially in a roadside service station where they accidently reverse their car into him. Feeling guilty, they agree to take him to the town they are travelling to. The in car conversation totally creeps the couple out (Em is a very intense and clearly creepy fellow), and things get worse as time and again he appears during their break, each encounter becoming more and more threatening. It seems Em is rather disturbed, he has hardly slept for years and is somewhat impervious to pain, and he has chosen this couple to initially mentally and then physically torture for some reason known only to his fractured mind. In time, he kidnaps Yun-hie, and once Jeong-hyun finds his wife, Em starts torturing the husband – giving him an ultimatum…. Em will stop the torture if he says yes to a simple question – allow him to kill Yun-hie.
I am not going to lie to you dear readers. I respect you all too much for that. This film is a fairly unashamed rip off of the 1986 Rutger Hauer feature “The Hitcher”. Even to the degree that there are a couple of scene that are fairly ripped from its inspiration. However, that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. “The Hitcher” is a great B-movie, and I am going to say that for what it is, within its limitations, that “Say Yes” is a pretty fun little movie also.
Front and foremost we get a great performance from familiar face Park Joong-hoon. Anyone who has watched a bunch of Korean movie will recognise him, and her he shows he can do creepy Psycho along with the best of them. His Em is a force of nature, whose insanity starts as almost cold and emotionless, building to an orgy of violent excess. Kim Ju-hyuk starts off somewhat annoying and wet, but as the film progresses, and his own mental state collapses, I actually got to like him. Choo Sang-mi provides fairly decent support as well, not just being very attractive, but playing a character who is somewhat nuanced.
In fact, it is this nuance that I enjoyed most about the film. Once you strip away all the ridiculous parts of the film, which I believe you have to accept in this kind of film (Em’s relentless ability to ignore injuries that would at least keep a real person down, the scream at the screen moments where the couple make really stupid decisions), this is a quite interesting couple. Recently married, but they clearly are on different pages in terms of their relationship with each other. In an almost role reversal from the norm, the husband is the one utterly smitten and in love, and it is the wife who is struggling to give herself 100% to the relationship. She is the one who cannot say “I love you” back to her partner, and she is the one who admits that if the tables were turned, she would struggle to perform the self sacrifice required. Sadly the story decides not to really explore this with a dénouement that takes the common road in such films and without spoiling too much, you simply will not be too shocked when you see who survives at the end.
Korean films on the whole are usually pretty reserved on terms of gore and nudity (violence is a different thing altogether), and especially for 2001 this one has an unexpected amount of both. It isn’t gratuitous, but males and females are both exposed visually. And whilst this isn’t at the level of “Oldboy” or “I Saw the Devil”, there are some fairly gruesome moments that are visually more evocative that the usual hints that Korean films tend to prefer to use.
The film also builds really nicely. The first hour or so mostly plays with tension, we all know this is going to end badly, but it keeps the confrontations either verbal or little more than posturing. It then goes a little batshit crazy, takes a little pause for breath, and then ramps it all up again. However ridiculous your brain might be considering the events unfolding are, the horror elements are not only well done, but the beats of the film really build well, keeping you on the edge of your seat.
The ending is something I could have done without. I have seen it before several times, and without actually ever taking time to explore the background of Em, I am not quite sure what to make of the logic jump that the film decides to leave us with. Violence begats violence, I understand that, but by not exploring these ideas (in fact the film almost goes out of its way in the final conversation to NOT explore it), it leaves the film as a little more than a fairly good thrill ride.
I feel sometimes I am a little harsh on the films I review. And whilst this one offers nothing new, and has a ton of quite major issues, for what it is? It is well done, well acted and performs the required actions for a movie of this type. So surprisingly? I am going to make this one a Recommended.