For a while now, South Koreans have been kicking our ass in the thriller department. Maybe it’s something in the water over there, but every year there’s another intelligent revenge thriller that crosses over to the U.S. and makes us look like unoriginal hacks. They’re typically dark, violent, and overly theatrical as well. But despite the similar tones and content, they never feel formulaic. The latest export is writer/director Jeong Byeong-Gil’s Confession of Murder – a confident cop vs. killer film that contains some of the most spectacular chase scenes of the year and a plot that twists more than a school dance in the ’60s.
This is Byeong-Gil’s second feature and first narrative film – the previous being the documentary Action Boys that profiled Korean stuntmen. A minute into Confession of Murder, the director shows his stunt work proficiency by staging a dizzying foot chase through various urban obstacles. Seriously, this film hits the ground running. You barely have time to settle into your seat before a cop is getting judo-flipped into a fish tank. If the sign of a boring movie is an opening-helicopter shot, then the sign of a righteous one is an opening-guy getting flipped into a fish tank.
The man who goes through the tank is hardboiled Lt. Choi (Jeong Jae-yeong), a cop on the trail of a serial killer who’s already killed 10 women. Right when it seems like Choi has finally got his man, the killer carves his face up pretty bad and escapes. 15 years later, the killer is still unknown and the statute of limitations is about to expire. Choi, defeated and scarred on more than one level, is still haunted by the one who got away. Out of the blue, a man named Lee (Park Si-Hoo) holds a press conference, claiming to be the killer.
Even worse, he’s charming and repentant. He’s even publishing a graphic tell-all memoir about the killings, complete with information only the murderer would know. Choi can’t touch him due to the statute, but that doesn’t mean the families of the victims will let this smarmy bastard off the hook. Then again, Lee could always be nothing more than a handsome con artist….
The relentless plot twists and brooding suspense make this not your usual police procedural. Tonally the film is all over the place, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. The tension reaches it greatest heights during two live televised debates between Lee and Choi. Here Byeong-Gil is saying something about how the media creates a cult around bad people (and usually gives them their own reality shows). The film also balances in some comedy as well. There are some fantastic moments of deadpan humor from Jeong Jae-yeong that provide some much needed relief from the gloominess.
There are only three action set-pieces in the film, but they’re doozies. Besides the thrilling opening chase, there are two batshit car chases. Although each of them are a little implausible (especially the final one), they’re both more exciting than most chases we see coming out of Hollywood. They’re taken to the next level by some really creative things Byeong-Gil does with the camera. During the initial chase, at times the camera moves right alongside the actors – even when they jump off rooftops and through windows. It’s seamless work and I wonder if the cameraman was a stuntman as well. It’s some truly amazing and dynamic work.
While it may not pack the emotional wallop of Memories of Murder or I Saw the Devil, Confession of Murder is another remarkable example of how South Korea is doing genre films better than us. It’s an entertaining thrill ride with a narrative that really grabs onto ya until the end. Check it out before its remade in America – starring Brendan Fraser as Lt. Choi, I’m assuming.