Desire To Kill aka Enemy at the Dead End (Joogigo Sipeun)

Korea (2010) Dirs. Kim Sang-Hwa, Jo Won-Hee

Following a stroke, Min-Ho (Cheon Ho-Jin) lays paralysed in a hospital bed, depressed and suicidal, until he gets a familiar looking new neighbour in amnesiac named Sang-up (Yu Hae-Jin), who is also paralysed. Min-Ho suddenly remembers that Sang-Up killed his wife Su-Jin (Song Ji-Eun) many years ago, and takes this opportunity to extract his revenge while Sang-Up lies helpless and his memory is gone. However Sang-Up not only starts to make progress in his physical recovery but his memories start to return, and is equally intent on putting Min-Ho out of his misery first.

The above outline for this Korean black comedy is a little deceptive, as a subtly intricate storyline that lurks silently in the background before leaping out from the shadows following a mid film twist that reshapes the entire perspective of the film. But, it is predominantly about two bed ridden men with serious medical conditions trying to kill each other, which elicits some guilty laughs here and there, although nothing is too offensive or in bad taste, with a bloody and intense finale that brings with it the mother of all reveals.

The conceit of the film is the identity of the mysterious Dr. Paik, a highly revered doctor and surgeon who has taken personal responsibility for both Min-Ho and later Sang-Up. She subjects her patients to extreme and revolutionary new methods to cure them of their ills; Min-Ho is given electro-shock therapy to literally shock the depression out of him while both he and Sang-Up are given higher dosages of a new medication. The other central figure in this tale is the bubbly, wide eyed Nurse Ha (Seo Hyo-Rim) who seems to be the permanent carer for Min-Ho and Sang-Up, creating a warm bond with both men who out of respect for her, keep their squabbles behind her back; Nurse Ha does inadvertently play a part in the vendetta though, when her discarded torn stocking becomes a weapon for Min-Ho, resulting in one of the funnier scenes of the film when Min-Ho tries to put it to good use.

Where co-directors Kim Sang-Hwa and Jo Won-Hee show their mettle is in how they manage to depict an intense and often violent feud between two largely immobile men so entertaining and inventive in spite of the obvious limitations they have created to themselves with the story. A little suspension of disbelief is required in some places but the majority of the attacks meted out by Min-Ho, and later Sang-Up are very credible and plausible, showing great resourcefulness as well as desperation on the part of the two sedentary scrappers. Thankfully the action gets the odd reprieve when the patients are taken out in wheelchairs to the cliff tops for some fresh air. What could possibly go wrong there?

There is a lot more than could be said about the story but I fear I’ve said too much as it is, but the way things unravel to turn the story on its head to keep the viewer’s interest for much longer than the concept ordinarily would is a joy to behold. Cheon Ho-Jin and Yu Hae-Jin are two reliable hands in Korean cinema, having both appeared in everything from horror, crime, drama, comedy and historical dramas, and both adeptly refer to some of those prior roles for their respective turns of Min-Ho and Sang-Up, going above and beyond to create two convincing physically and mentally ailing and troubled men. Seo-Hyo-Rim is an effervescent bundle of cuteness as Nurse Ha while a special mention must go to the impish unnamed child (Ahn Eun-Jung) who visits both men and helps inflict suffering on the other for sweets and treats.

Desire To Kill (the alternate title chosen by UK distributor Terracotta) is a smart, well crafted, multi-layered and eventful black comedy thriller than offer so much more than its purports to. Intelligent, violent, taut and twisted, don’t this dark Korean treat slip under the radar.