Action Confession of Murder

Reel Asian Film Review: Confession of Murder

November 16, 2013Ben MK

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A lesson in the three R's: Retribution, Redemption and Repentance

Society's obsession with celebrity is something that has been explored in film time and time again -- in The Truman Show and, more recently, The Bling Ring, to name a few examples. The subject matter has lent itself to comedies, dramas and documentaries -- but a crime thriller -- well, that's a niche that affords an interesting take on the topic. Enter Confession of Murder, which takes our shared fascination with fame and uses it as a springboard for a unique spin on the tale of cop vs. killer.

The year is 2007, 17 years after South Korea was terrorized by a serial killer who claimed 10 victims during his murderous spree. A man claiming to be the notorious killer, named Lee Doo-suk (Park Si-hoo), has suddenly surfaced, triggering a media frenzy. Now that the statute of limitations on the killings has expired, he's ready to unveil a tell-all book confessing to the crimes in every detail. With the announcement, the lead detective on the case, Lt. Choi Hyung-gu (Jeong Jae-yeong), is suddenly thrust back into the investigation and given a new opportunity to redeem himself, 2 years after a last stand with the killer left him physically disfigured and his will broken.

But just what is Lee's endgame? It may simply be to torment Lt. Choi, who has not only carried the physical scars with him for all these years, but also bears an intimate connection with the case. Or it may be that Lee genuinely seeks to atone for his sins. Everyone from the police to the media and the general public has their suspicions, but none of it prevents the book, "I am the Murderer", from becoming an instant bestseller. Lee's meteoric rise to fame, fueled by a growing legion of rabid fans who are drawn in by his charismatic good looks, also attracts trouble for the mystery man. As he bathes in the spotlight, a small group of the victims' families scheme to abduct him, force him to reveal the whereabouts of his final victim and inflict their own brand of punishment on him. Even more troublesome is a second mystery man, known only as J, who claims that Lee is a pretender and that he is the real killer. As events unfold in the public arena, under the all-seeing eye of the media, the truth will be revealed and justice will be served -- whether it's by the letter of the law or not. 

Director Jeong Byeong-gil follows in the oversized footsteps of famed South Korean filmmakers Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon, so there are lofty expectations to live up to. As a first-time feature director, he proves he's up to the task by taking a somewhat generic set-up and upending the norm. Right off the bat, we know that things may not always be as they seem, as even the physical appearances of the protagonist and the antagonist don't conform to the status quo. Although things are a bit rough around the edges, all the pieces are in place for a satisfying blend of action, drama and crime thriller. It makes for a busy film, and there are multiple narrative threads to follow -- from Lt. Choi to the victims' families, and even the members of the media who are orchestrating the public showdown between the major players -- but Jeong does a good job at keeping things interesting without losing focus of the payoff. Eventually, we find out how everything is connected through a series of stunning revelations that give new meaning to the events that came before. Action-wise, it's also an impressive first effort; fight and chase sequences (whether they be on foot or vehicular) are choreographed with a kinetic style and a sense of immediacy that brings realism to the often over the top action. Like Park and Kim's work, there's also a dash of humor; and the angle of celebrity obsession adds a layer of social commentary on top the proceedings that keeps the final product from feeling stale.

The Bottom Line

For those looking for the "next big thing" in South Korean filmmaking, Jeong Byeong-gil shows promise. Confession of Murder takes an otherwise basic premise -- of cop vs. killer -- wraps it around an interesting hook and winds it up with intrigue and action. If you have a penchant for crime thrillers and like your revenge served cold and with a twist, this deserves a spot on your list of films to see. [★★★½]

* Reviewer's Note: Confession of Murder is a 2012 South Korean production and was screened as a Feature Presentation of the 2013 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.

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