The Quiz Show Scandal (Kwijeu Wang)

Korea (2010) Dir. Jin Jang

Fate has a funny way of bringing people together and is equally capricious in how it breaks them apart. One night on the Gangbyeon Expressway, an young woman (Go Eun-mi) is suddenly hit by a car, before being bounced onto the bonnet of the second car leading to a third car just swerving to miss her but hitting the car in front before a fourth car runs over her prone body. The Yongsang traffic police bring in all of the drivers and passengers for questioning – which includes a squabbling husband and wife with their young daughter, two “fix it” men with a dead body in the boot of their car, a father and his wannabe singer son and four members of a depression support group. At the station a drunken Lee Jun-sang (Im Won-hui) is being questioned and later a troublesome delivery boy Oh Cheol-ju (Ryu Deok-hwan) is brought in. The dead woman’s belongings are recovered and while no DI can be found a USB flash drive reveals that she was the question setter for a top rated monthly TV quiz show imaginatively titled The Quiz Show. The USB contains a document with the thirtieth question for the next edition of the show, which has a rollover prize fund of 13 million dollars! Since no-one in the history of the show has ever made it to question 30 everyone in the station that night decides to brush up on their general knowledge to enter the quiz and win the money. They may know that final question but they have to answer the first twenty-nine…

It’s a remarkably simple premise that director Jin Jang manages to eke out to two hours, turning this into a character driven piece before unleashing the tense drama of the quiz upon us. This ensemble piece works as both a silly comedy, a subtle satire on the opportunistic nature of people while also serving as a look at those with more altruistic intentions, before closing with a scathing and sobering final shot to remind us what set everything in motion in the first place. While the pacing and structure is a little haphazard at times the script is sharp and neatly observed with the main players among the expansive cast all clearly defined.

The first thirty minutes plus are dedicated to introducing us to the disparate bunch who are soon to have their lives changed by the possibly suicidal act of the question setter we learn is named Im Yeon-yi, apparently a giant in her field. Father and son, Do Ho-Man (Song Young-Chang) & Ji-Yong (Lee Ji-Yong), coming back from the hospital where Mrs. Do is in a coma, are arguing over the smart youngster wanting to be a singer. Sang-Do (Ryoo Seung-Ryong) & Pal-Nyeo (Jang Yeong-Nam) are also arguing over the former’s gambling habits. Narrowly missing Yeon-yi’s body are wannabe gangsters and “fix it” men Do-Yeop (Kim Su-Ro) & Sang-Kil (Han Jae-Seok) whom we first meet stuffing up the simple threatening of a man late with a debt repayment; while the fourth car has four members of a depression support group: mouthy schoolgirl Yeo-Na (Shim Eun-Kyeong), a French teacher (Lee Sang-hoon), a mobile phone repairer (Lee Moon-soo) and the group president Jung-Sang (Kim Byeong-Ok).

Admittedly the last group doesn’t sound like a particularly favourable target for humour but Jang keeps it light with the encouraging group motto being “We’re not depressed, we’re just less excited”! Yet none of the characteristics of depressives actually appear here despite becoming involved in manslaughter which is the only oversight on the characterisation front. The rest are present are correct, with the fix it men trying to act big in front of everyone, as does our delinquent delivery boy. Come quiz time and it is clear who gets to make it to the final TV show along with a few cameos as fellow contestants, including Jung Jae-Young an angry but dim Taekwondo fighter. Again the humour is often delivered in broad strokes making it hit and miss but when it hits it is very amusing.

It’s interesting to note that the film is essentially built around two extended set piece featuring all the main cast members – that being the night in the police station and the TV quiz show itself, hosted by the smarmy Ha Young (Lee Hae-Yeong). Both scenes are set in enclosed spaces yet never feel claustrophobic, giving everyone equal space and screentime to establish themselves and make an impact on the scene. Jang is able to create a wide canvas for the actors to perform on despite the spatial limitations so no-one is verbally or physically stepping over one another while not leaving anyone out or reducing them to ballast. For the quiz itself a successful end result is never guaranteed and we certainly aren’t given any early clues as to who lasts the distance. This unpredictability is very welcome and makes for a gripping final act.

Amidst the comedy and the drama of the quiz there are some serious issues covered here, most notably the comatose Mrs. Do and the corruption of the TV executives when it comes to the quiz. Perhaps not all of these elements work well, the former certainly brought up sparingly but with so many lives to cover something has to give. Overall, the script is at least focused where it needs to be and the cast all do affine job in bringing Jang’s vision to life.

Inevitably there is a case for some prudent trimming of the fat but The Quiz Show Scandal is a smart and deceptively layered film with a caustic tongue ever so slightly poking out from behind its cheek.