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Murder, Take One

September 4th, 2006 (09:05 pm)

© 2006 D. Gordon

Man - if this is what average Korean cinema looks like, I wanna more to Seoul and watch movies all day long!

Murder, Take One starts with the relevant murder in its opening scenes: feet hanging off a hotel bed; then, panning up a bit, a body face down on the bed; then, a little further up, the mattress underneath the body, saturated with blood. At first, it seems a cut-and-dried case: a drifter, picked up on the hotel grounds within minutes, makes a convenient primary suspect. He even shows up on cue on the hotel surveillance cameras. But he passes the polygraph test, and it soon becomes clear that he probably isn't the murderer. The rest of the movie follows the next four days as the police investigators follow a Byzantine path to uncover who had the motive, what they were doing around the murder - and what actually happened.

It also becomes a bit of a commentary on the role of society in the running of that society. Given the brutality of the murder, and the victim's background (an ad executive), a television crew moves into police headquarters to shadow the investigation and feed the news to a hungry public in real time. The initial police interrogation of the subject is broadcast live on a news special. Commentators offer theories; audiences vote on the suspect's innocence or guilt a là Survivor. Police work gets tailored just a bit for the cameras, and witness are coached to add a bit of on-air drama.

This movie mixes commonplace elements to produce a novel, engaging result. There's a little fancy hand-held camera work, but it's not overdone. The narrative plays like a soap opera with plenty of twists and turns between the murder and the resolution; but, much like Forbidden Quest, it's a well-done soap opera. The characters are types: the hard-boiled prosecutor, his good-cop counterpart, the fatherly police chief, the shady brother, the jealous daughter, the ambitious producer, even the wacky exorcists / psychics. The key here is that director Jin Jang's mixture works. It's not a weepfest, it's not melodramatic corn; neither is it high art - nor is it meant to be. It does have elements of noir and pulp fiction in the best sense, where every clue can mean something. It's a different method of telling a story which does just that - and in this case, suspends the reality check enough to actually work. A fun few hours of a wild ride through the minutiae of a singular police investigation - and whether it's truly possible to ever really know "the truth".