A story held hostage to camera tricksIt is probably every film director’s nightmare to tell a story that’s already been told before (especially one that’s been told better). It’s that fear that is behind the bad habit of many directors to omit or manipulate critical parts of their narratives, opting for cinematic cliches over straightforward explanations.
Sure, there’s no one proper way to tell a story. Yet in films such as “Gangjeok” (Les Formidables), the editing is so choppy that by the time the closing credits start rolling you wonder whether everything you just saw was completely delusional.
It’s understandable why the director Jo Min-ho had to take this approach. Drama overwhelms the film, which is about a strung-out cop who is taken hostage by an escaped inmate of a prison.
Sung-woo (played by Park Jung-hun) is desperately trying to pay for an operation for his sick son; Su-hyun (Cheon Jeong-myeon) eats broken pieces of his lunch plate in prison to protest that he was falsely accused of a murder charge. He escapes from a prison hospital after taking Sung-woo hostage.
Eventually, however, the two men form a partnership, as Su-hyun offers Sung-woo a deal to provide the money he needs if he helps his partner clear his false murder charge. During their 48 hours of freedom, however, the two realize they are polar opposites.
Su-hyun wants to live a good life; Sung-woo wants to be a good father. Su-hyun believes life can be special; Sung-woo says life is nothing. But deep down, they are good men ― or at least the film seems to think so.
Yet the film suffers from its lack of any resolution, no doubt due to the director’s fear of telling a conventional story. Humor is used to distract the viewer from serious dialogue. Choppy editing techniques are overused in the hope that they will maintain the air of tension.
The director deliberately blurs or skips basic plot elements within the film that are crucial to determining the film’s storyline. For example, when tension builds halfway through the film, as Su-hyun suddenly blurts out that he killed Sung-woo’s partner, who died during a stake-out, the camera revolves around their heads as a cheap attempt to raise the tension from the realization that Su-hyun has been a murderer all along. Then when Sung-woo asks Su-hyun again after a moment of silence whether he really meant it, he simply replies, “Who knows? A cop with 15 years in the field would know,” and leaves it at that ― no resolution. The film’s jokes fall flat in some scenes, such as when the two men walk into a veterinarian’s office covered in blood, saying, “Every man is an animal after all.”
The film’s dialogue and story are either too profound or too dramatic to the point of being so simplified it feels like the film would have been better had it picked a side and stuck with it, rather than keeping its balance and going nowhere.
Directed by Jo Min-ho
Starring Park Jung-hun, Cheon Jeong-myeon
Running time: 118 minutes
by Park Soo-mee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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