Good news – the much awaited parcel arrived! So there’s the final couple of films I really wanted to watch finally turned up. Mixed news? I’ve got a few more to watch before I even get to them. Bad news? Dental issues, some bad health, and the onset of depression have stopped me really getting on with anything. However, I have watched a couple of things these last two weeks, so maybe we will will get a double review weekend. So I will stop the chit chat and get on with it… today I will talk about one of the staples of this blog, a Korean Revenge Thriller (by way of Japan).
Lee Jeong-ho’s “Broken” follows widowed factory worker Sang-hyun (Jeong Jae-yeong) whose already downward spiral of a life gets even worse when his daughter Su-jin is kidapped, raped, drugged and murdered. The Police, led by Detective Eok-gwan (Lee Sung-min) seem to be making little progress, so when Sang-hyun gets a text from his daughter’s missing phone giving the location of one of her abductors, he decides to follow up himself. What he finds makes the terrible situation even worse – the whole incident was recorded. It appears that many girls have been kidnapped and raped by the gang (although her death was an accident). Sang-hung snaps, and beats the young murderer to death, and decides to follow the trail to do the same to the rest of the gang. Eok-gwan and his team are called to this incident as well, and soon make the connection. Can they stop Sang-hung’s murderous revenge, or does the fact that the justice system is actually going to punish the original perpertrators less than the grieving father mean that their conscience is going to give them pause for thought?
This is another Korean adaptation of a Keigo Higashino novel, already filmed in his native Japanese as “The Hovering Blade” (confusingly one of the international titles for this film). I am a big fan of Higashino’s work, and this one certainly fits the mould of what I have seen in various media formats before – a suspect/villain that elicits some sympathies with the audience and an intelligent if conflicted representative of the legal enforcement system. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And in this adaptation, the film takes time to talk about certain questions that are thought provoking. Not just about the nature of revenge, but questions such as why an adult murdering minors is viewed as any more henious than minors murdering innocents? Actually, this does seem to be a common theme in a few Japanese inspired modern films, see “Confessions” or to some extent “Battle Royale” (and unrelated.. how come I never reviewed that?). Or that the fact the murder was techincially an accident makes the crime and the wider context in which it happens somehow less punishable?
It’s a dark film (not quite in the “World of Kanako” level of bleakness) with few characters you actually grow to love, but luckily you get great performances by the two main leads. Jeong Jae-yeong is always good value, and here he superbly portrays a man quite simply broken by events that he has no control over. To see him go from a fugue state, to enraged, to a desperate man physically exhausted close to failing in his final goal is quite compelling. Lee Sung-min is also great as a Detective with a somewhat suspect past himself. The younger cast members do fine, although they are not helped because of the reprehensible act they have been involved in.
Director Lee’s last film was the superior horror/thriller “Bestseller“, and his obvious talents are used to good effect here – he uses cinema vertie camera stylings to give the film an almost documentry feel, but manages to aviod too much shakey-cam and flashy special effects. The human drama is what is important here, and he makes sure the questions that should be asked are given some time to air. Setting much of the film in a ski-ing resort keeps the pallete down to blacks and whites and greys, matching the tone of these questions.
It is at times quite a hard watch – especially when we get glimpses of Su-jin’s final moments, or when Sang-hyun is extracting his initial rage-fuelled revenge. But the first half of the film certainly keeps up a solid pace. Unfortunatley, the second half isn’t quite so strong, in many ways much less happens, and we are ‘treated’ to a few too many flashbacks and time shifts, explaining things that maybe didn’t need to be kept as a mystery. I also felt that the film stumbled a bit in the conclusion, adding on a final scene which took away some of the power of the final moments of the main narrative (but I suspect this is how the original novel, not yet translated in to English, played out… I had similar issues with Higashino adapatation “Perfect Number” a while back).
Overall? I really liked this one. Performances are great from the always reliable main cast, and there was a reasonable balance between the violence and actually taking time to discuss certain issues. I am going for Recommended here, it only fails to be really top notch because of the inferior second hour, which although far from being bad, just makes it a little more of a struggle than it deserves to be.