aka Heojil kyolshim | Directed by Park Chan-wook | Written by Park Chan-wook and Seo-kyeong Jeong | 138 min | ▲▲▲△△ | Crave
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.