aka Heojil kyolshim | Directed by Park Chan-wook | Written by Park Chan-wook and Seo-kyeong Jeong | 138 min | ▲▲▲△△
An earlier version of this review appeared on FITI in September during the Toronto International Film Festival
After the triumph that was his last film, The Handmaiden, Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook delivers an ostensible, somewhat goofy noir about a dogged detective, played by Park Hae-il.
He’s a married man who falls in love with a woman, played by Tang Wei, who may have murdered her husband, whose body has been found at the base of a cliff where he was rock climbing.
The construction of the film is typically impressive, labyrinthine in its character notes and plot twists, with a lot of pleasure to be taken from the various hidden motivations revealed through the picture’s extended running time — told over two distinct chapters and time periods.
I won’t say it’s not entertaining, it certainly is, but it’s also undermined by tonal issues that tend to regularly scupper what’s good about it: A light, sometimes irritating humour in the script that clashes with the gritty, crime thriller elements, an unwelcome sentimentality, and finally a conclusion that attempts to mine emotions the film has failed to seed.
Part of the problem is Park Hae-il inhabits his role like an empty suit. It feels like he’s playing at a Jack Lemmon part, a rumpled schmo absent any real passion that would help us understand or empathize with him. He’s someone who has things happen to him, rather than a protagonist who moves the story forward. He gets to make a few key decisions along the way, but in no way is he the damaged hero this movie needs.
How this convoluted story of cross and double-cross unspools certainly kept my interest, while the murder mystery detail in the script is terrific — and Tang Wei makes a compelling femme fatale — but it all winds up feeling slightly exhausting when it should be enervating.