I’ve been enjoying films out of South Korean for going on two decades now. That isn’t to say that I’ve enjoyed everything that’s come out of that great nation; it is to say, however, that I’m far more interested in even their small releases than I am most American-made summer blockbusters. I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it in the event that you’re just finding my critical voice now: an awful lot of these foreign releases aren’t shackled by the studio-enforced creative constraints killing much of the U.S. theatrical scene, and that’s a huge benefit.
However, CONFESSION OF MURDER tries to blend those two worlds – create a summer tent-pole-style flick that’ll bring in the masses while preserving that which makes Korean cinema its own animal. It succeeds more than it fails, but where it fails it almost veers into cartoon silliness, most of which is limited to the film’s big action sequences.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
After the statute of limitations expires on a particular grisly series of serial murders, a picture perfect young man named Lee (played by Won-yeong Choi) comes forward claiming to have committed all of them except a last one long attributed to the same killer. As his penance, he’s chosen to release his memoirs – detailing the highs and lows of these events – as well as make a public apology to the families. Still, Detective Choi (Jae-yeong Jeong) isn’t convinced of the man’s sincerely, and he’ll find himself caught up in a dangerous game to unmask the real culprit despite the fact that, legally, there may be nothing that can be done about it.
As is often the case when I critique foreign films, I have some quibbles with some of the artistic choices, but rarely have I see a motion picture try as hard as CONFESSION OF MURDER. In fact, on first blush I’m almost willing to give director Jung Byung-gil a pass on a few of them. Despite what some others have written and perhaps a high score here and elsewhere, MURDER isn’t perfect; it nearly spirals out of control with some increasingly bizarre action set pieces that strive for overkill when modesty would’ve definitely been the better choice.
At the core of the experience is a nonetheless stellar whodunit. Precisely because there’s seemingly very little that can be done if Lee’s guilt is established is the driving force around so very much of this story, and, on most levels, that’s pretty thrilling. Throwing in the chief detective who has lived a life largely in personal frustration and professional disgrace for letting this one get away (it happens to involve the death of his fiancé) truly propels the pulse to a frenetic rate. Won-yeong Choi and Jae-yeong Jeong are particularly effective playing against one another – one is young and virile, while the elder appears ragged and scarred (internally and externally). Their chemistry as adversaries struggling to regain what they’ve lost makes MURDER definitely worth the effort. I won’t spoil the big finish, but I will say that the flick definitely will keep you guessing with some solid, effective developments.
What grinds the film to a halt are two action pieces that start small but build to almost the point of absurdity. Again, I’ll avoid spoiling it, though I’m willing to say that they’re obviously highly accomplished stunt work – mostly practical stuff, very little CGI (thankfully); it’s just that, on the narrative level, these sequences rise to the level of an Indiana Jones motion picture, and that felt largely out-of-sync with the honest, guttural, and emotional narrative established by the story. This isn’t to say that they’re bad choices; rather, it’s just that they’re bad choices as constructed, feeling like their antics belong in some other picture centered on action heroes instead of players caught up in a brainy cat-and-mouse potboiler.
Definitely worth the time, MURDER goes on a bit long. I would’ve trimmed some of the lunacy of a few car chases, and this one could’ve been one for the ages.
CONFESSION OF MURDER (2012) is produced by Dasepo Club in association with Showbox / Mediaplex. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through the stellar and reliable Well Go USA Entertainment. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Korean spoken language release with English subtitles available. (There is no English-dubbed track.) As for the technical specifications, these days you can take almost any of Well Go USA’s Korean releases to the bank; they’re only serving up the highest quality sights and sounds imaginable. Lastly, if it’s special features you’re most interested in, well, you’ll likely be disappointing: there’s a brief behind-the-scenes short along with equally short interviews with a few key players, but that’s all you get.
RECOMMENDED. Look, I’ll probably not be the first to point out that CONFESSION OF MURDER isn’t perfect; I suspect I won’t be the last either. As hard as the story tries to serve up one twist after another, you’d think someone was giving out awards for plot surprises. Sadly, that’s not the way award ceremonies work, and I tend to think a healthy dialing back on the last few big reveals might’ve helped make this whodunit a tad more believable. However, its action sequence are all solid, if not a bit overreaching as well.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of CONFESSION OF MURDER by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.