Korean Release Date: 26th of August, 2010
UK DVD Release Date: 20th August 2012 (Terror-cotta)
Running Time: 91 mins.
Directors: Owen Cho, Kim Sang-Hwa
Writers: Owen Cho, Kim Sang-Hwa
Starring: Cheon Ho-Jin, Yu Hae-Jin, Seo Hyo-Lim, Kim Seo-Hyung, Ra Mi-Ran, Ahn Eun-Jung, Lee Jeong-Heon,
Desire to Kill is the debut feature by Owen Cho and Kim Sang-Hwa but you would never know it because this thriller is so well put together with such flair and smart writing it makes many other films from more experienced directors look creatively barren.
After the death of his wife, Kim Min-Ho (Cheon Ho-Jin) repeatedly tries to commit suicide. His efforts leave him in hospital and paralysed from neck down. He is overwhelmed by his muddled memories and the desire to kill the murderer of his wife. When an unconscious man named Sang-Up (Yu Hae-Jin) is brought into Kim Min-Ho’s room he discovers that he is the murderer and is suffering amnesia and paralysis. The two are under the care of Nurse Ha (Seo Hyo-Rim) and Dr. Paik (Kim Seo-Hyung) who is performing brain surgery on Sang-Up whilst feeding the two an untested medicine named AAP. Kim Min-Ho finds himself in a race to recover before Sang-Up so he can exact his revenge.
The film begins on July 25th 1984 with Min-Ho stating “Weather clear. I plan to kill a man today but I can’t remember his face.” This is the start of a film which features a great thriller plot accompanied by black comedy all wrapped up in great visuals but what really impresses is the exploration of memory.
Memory can be a tricky thing. When we bring in different interpretations it can be the least reliable thing around. It is a subject regularly explored in films like Memento, The Bourne Identity and Retribution. If I had to make a comparison with another film it would be Oldboy as it gives us two characters defined by memory, or lack of it in one case, and pulls back their layers of memory as part of an intricately constructed plot tied to one character’s desire to kill.
For this film Min-Ho and Sang-Up are our two mystery protagonists and the filmmakers use every trick in the book to make us constantly reassess them. The characters are all brilliantly written and the actors physically adhere to types. It is easy to take them at face value, especially with Min-Ho (Chun Ho-Jin who appeared in Doll Master) looking like a bedraggled underdog and Sang-Up acting like a loutish thug which is what actor Yu Hae-Jin is good at if you watch Kick the Moon and Public Enemy. The two are charismatic enough to blind us to any imperfections which allows the plot to surprise.
I will not reveal any more, suffice it to say that the two actors give their all in physically demanding performances. Yes they are stuck on hospital beds and in wheelchairs due to the limited motor-functions of their characters but that does not stop them trying to kill each other and they go through hell as they attempt to do so.
The constant obsession with death is where the black comedy emerges. Watching the two racing to recover quickly before one gets his memory back is amusing as they constantly probe the progress their rival has made and engage in mad but limited training. Min-ho’s constant pilfering of objects from nurses and making rather rubbish improvised weapons for his frenzied attacks also leads to amusing sequences. Nurse Ha’s (Seo Hyo-Rim) obliviousness to the dark intentions of her two patients is also endearing.
All of this takes place in the realm of a hospital, sometimes in the grounds, the operating theatres, corridors but mostly in the room the two patients inhabit. It is never boring.
The directors display strong visual design. The film takes place in one location, a hospital, which has a lot of character. The physical set seems to reflect the actions/memory stages of the patients. Initial daytime scenes when the plot and characters are simple are bright and clear, predominantly white with bright sunlight reflecting off bed sheets, doctor’s uniforms. As the film progresses and the darkness emerges the colours reflect that as dark blues, tanned browns, sickly yellows, blood reds emerge.
The directors’ deliver all of this with the use wide angle lenses/dolly-shots to capture both patients in their wheelchairs or beds and set scenes. When there are realisations or a medical break-through there are close-ups on faces. Someone has been watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly because the POV shots are blurred at edges. One fevered sequence, light flashes, bleeds out, cuts between shots rapidly, close-ups on things. I am listing things which is boring to read but actually watching them is exciting and even if the characters lack the ability to move you still feel so much energy coming from the screen.
This is yet another example of why Korea is considered one of the hottest and most creative centres of filmmaking and getting two interviews on the disc with the director and cast was fascinating.
I have kept this review as vague as possible. I was blown away by the second half of the film as the plot unfolded and things became much more complex and surprising, becoming bigger and darker than I could have guessed but the sharp black humour and the excellent acting kept things running smoothly and with a great thriller plot like this it is a great film to watch and re-watch just to marvel at the intricate design.