Confession Of Murder (Nae-ga sal-in-beom-i-da)

Korea (2012) Dir. Jeong Byeong-gil

2005 and police detective Choi Hyung-Goo (Jung Jae-Young) has a run in with a masked killer who disfigures him and tells Choi he’ll extract a special revenge on him. A short while later the fifteen year statute of limitations expires on a the case of brutal serial killings following which a man named Lee Doo-Suk (Park Si-Hoo) publishes a book “I Am The Murderer” in 2007, confessing to and describing in great detail all of the killings from the fifteen year period, turning Lee into a celebrity.

Now a washed up detective with a drink problem, angry at his failure to catch and prosecute Lee, Choi is determined to bring Lee down. Meanwhile a small group of parents of Lee’s alleged victims, headed by Han Ji-su (Kim Yeong-ae), the mother of the last victim whose body has not been found, are planning their own revenge which interferes with Choi’s plans. Then a man called “J” (Jeong Hae-gyun) appears claiming he is the real killer not Lee.

Having made his name with the documentary Action Boys about stuntmen, Jeong Byeong-gil makes the move to feature films with this impressive debut, a spiralling murder mystery with a heavy dose of action and black humour thrown into the mix. In fact, it is these elements that make Confession Of Murder feel more like a Hong Kong action thriller than a Korean one. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if a Hong Kong remake appeared one day, probably with someone like Nick Cheung, Nicholas Tse or Louis Koo in the lead role.

The fifteen year statute of limitations is an interesting one that has been used as a plot device in Korean films before, most recently Montage but this one uses it to great effect, serving as a key component in making the celebrity status Lee enjoys once his book is published. A young good looking guy, his fanbase is largely young females ensuring maximum publicity and his book is a best seller.

As much as this rubs his ego it rubs Choi up the wrong way and he ends up being the bad guy in the eyes of the oddly smitten public. With the mystery of the final murder not yet solved Choi continues to push for Lee to reveal all, something Lee claims ignorance about, resulting in a live TV debate between the two. During the broadcast a caller named J talks with authority about the murders and accuses Lee of being a fake, claiming he is the real killer, sparking a media frenzy and public furore about this new direction the case.

Intriguing enough but Jeong isn’t done and throws in a huge twist which is likely to polarise the audience and does get the dramatic license treatment with some excessive flourishes but for this writer, it works very well and hits with suitable clout to change the complexion of the story sufficiently enough.

There is something a little overambitious about the mechanics and risk of this development which will have many screaming “Implausible” at the their screens but since it has the desired effect and gives way to some much needed emotional depth in the final act there is little room for complaint. The only part of the story that feels arguably surplus to requirement is the suicide of Choi’s ex-boxer friend Jeong Hyeon-shik (Ryu Je-seung) at the start of the film.

What isn’t so immediate to figure out is Jeong’s motive for his story – is he trying to put as fresh spin on the murder mystery or having a pop at the cult of celebrity? He achieves both with one contributing neatly the other, explaining the early dichotomy of dark thriller making way for comedic car chases and CGI frivolity.

The latter comes courtesy of Han Ji-su and her band of would be vigilantes, comprised of a snake catcher (Kim Jong-gu) and his daughter Gang-suk (Jo Eun-ji), who is a crack shot archer and Han’s ex-con friend Gang Do-hyeok (Oh Yong), who try to kidnap Lee to get him to reveal where the body of Han’s daughter is. The kidnap plan involves snakes (naturally) and results in a frantic motorway chase to justify the aforementioned Hong Kong thriller comparisons. It’s a blistering paced and high octane action scene, incorporating some high risk fights on top of the speeding cars.

Played superbly by a somewhat inappropriately babyfaced Park Si-Hoo, Lee is a suitably sneery and arrogant beyond belief, revelling in his condescension of Choi by flaunting the expired statute of limitations in his face while offering his hand at the same time, making his public appeal unfathomable but as we have seen in real life, the public sadly will latch on to anybody in the public eye if they are photogenic or interesting enough.

The fact Lee is a confessed murderer is the conceit of this satire and while this will be a stretch of credibility for some, we know that one day it will happen in reality – if it hasn’t already. Countering Park’s assured smugness as the beleaguered Choi is Jung Jae-Young, a man of many roles who gets a chance to incorporate a little of all of them while depicting Choi’s emotional ups and downs, while maintaining the integrity of his character throughout.

For a first time effort Jeong Byeong-gil has paid close attention to the conventions of the “typical” Korean thriller and manipulated them by incorporating elements from external influences into his tight and well paced script, has delivered a strong, intelligent and engaging crime drama that should have other filmmakers working in the genre exhibit the same forward thinking and put an original twist on an old favourite.

A successful blend of crime thriller, action and black comedy, Confession Of Murder is a confident, taut and polished, neatly crafted debut from a writer-director who we hope won’t be resting on his laurels and will push himself in his future projects.

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