Compelling true-crime thriller
OPENS AUGUST 6, CERT 15, 127 MINS
Anyone waiting for a film version of James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia will find plenty to tide them over in this South Korean hit about a string of still-unsolved rapes and murders that occurred between 1986 and 1991 in a small rural town. The perpetrator became Korea’s first serial killer, and director Bong Joon-ho’s movie focuses on the frustrations of the cops investigating the case.
When a woman’s body is found in a ditch on some farmland, detective Park Du-Man (Song Kang-ho) and his useless but entertainingly brutal sidekick Cho Yong-koo (kim Roe-ha) simply round up a bunch of suspects and set about beating a confession out of the most likely candidate. Without even basic forensics to help their search, the local police are at a loss when more bodies start turning up, prompting the arrival of a special agent from Seoul (Kim Sang-kyung). Although the hunt becomes more methodical and scientific, it’s no more successful.
Bong infuses this mystery with a feeling of dark desperation; denied the standard pleasure of following a case towards a satisfying, all-questions-answered resolution, the audience is flailing around in the dark along with the detectives. Even forearmed with the knowledge that the killer isn’t going to be found, the ending is both haunting and a real kick in the gut. Although compelling as a thriller with some standout set-pieces, the film is also loose enough to be surprisingly funny and touching. Recurring gags and spasmodic outbursts of almost slapstick violence regularly disrupt the intensity, and suspects are given back stories of real resonance, while shadowing every aspect of the narrative is the progress of instinct-driven cop Park as it gradually dawns on him that his ‘punch first, ask questions later’ technique is outmoded. Even Bong’s vivid use of real locations brings a fresh charge to what could have been a routine police procedural. Confidently told, finely detailed and full of character, this could be the best crime movie of the year.