Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan


Posted by CinemaPsycho on May 27, 2005

Directed by Lee Jong-Hyuk/screenplay by Lee Jong-Hyuk, Kim Hee-Jae, Oh Seung-Wook/starring Yeom Jeong-A, Jee Jin-Hee, Cho Seung-Woo/Tartan Asia Extreme

Two cops chase a copycat serial killer while interrogating the original murderer for clues to the crimes.

H is one of those movies where the less you know going in, the better. To detail the various plot elements would deprive the viewer of the disturbing revelations to be found within, and therefore it would be pointless for you to watch it. Even explaining what the cryptic title means (something the film itself doesn’t do until the very end) would be spilling a big secret. Trust me, you don’t want this one spoiled for you ahead of time.

Suffice it to say that this 2002 South Korean thriller starts out as your standard “cops vs. serial killer” story, and proceeds to venture into some genuinely freaky territory. And I’m not messing around when I say that. This is bizarre, bracing stuff. It’s not so much a gorefest (although the movie has its share of that) as it is just psychologically bruising material. It’s been almost a week since I watched this, and I’m still a little creeped out.

That’s not to say that this is a bad thing. If anything, that’s exactly the effect you want from this kind of movie, and so often they don’t deliver. The whole point is to potentially scar the audience for life, so that years later we’ll look back and think, “oh yeah, that was one sick, messed-up movie. Great stuff.”

Besides the shock factor, H is an engrossing police procedural as well. Of course the story involves two damaged cops (it wouldn’t be very disturbing if it featured two easygoing, happy-go-lucky cops, now would it?), Kim (Jeong-A), a veteran female detective whose original partner committed suicide, and her new partner Kang (Jin-Hee), a typical brash young hotshot with more guts than brains.

When a copycat killer starts murdering young women, they’re forced to go to Shin Hyun (Seung-Woo), the original psychopath who turned himself in after butchering six girls. Shin Hyun is easily the most memorable screen killer in years that I can think of – he’s a maddening little punk who talks in smug riddles and smirks obscenely. The kind of guy you can’t help but want to punch in the mouth.

There’s a blurb on the cover that reads, “Se7en meets Silence of the Lambs” (presumably so that Americans won’t think it’s a “boring foreign film”). That may seem like a facetious statement on the surface, but at times it does seem like the filmmakers literally tried to fuse elements of both films together. Yet it never feels like a complete ripoff of either, despite the similarities. Is H an especially original film? Not really – fans of the genre will instantly recognize its style, rhythm and conventions.

But what sets H apart is how far it’s willing to go to shock and disturb the audience, while still coming off as an extremely well-made, suspenseful piece of work. Not to mention its absolutely diabolical final plot twist, which rivals those of either of the aforementioned classics. At first it’s just a stunner – “whaaaa?” – but the more you think about it, the more sense it makes, and elements of the story that originally just seemed strange and unfathomable become much more clear. Suddenly you realize that you’ve been watching a completely different movie than the one you thought you were seeing, and that realization is exhilarating.

I actually wound up liking the movie more after I watched it than during. It’s pretty rare that a movie has that kind of effect these days, where so many films are just exactly what they seem on the surface. H is suspenseful and gripping stuff, and much smarter than the average thriller. It’s a trip worth taking – just not on a full stomach.

***1/2 5/27/05

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