Once again I find myself wandering Koreatown, begging for kimchi, and what should I come upon but a Korean double-feature! Well, not really, it’s just that I got there at the last showing of Blackened Heart which was followed immediately by A Special Lady so why not, I ask myself, why not see both of them?
No damned reason whatsoever.
Blackened Heart is a murder mystery/thriller wherein a very rich older man has an affair with an aging popstar whom his daughter absolutely hates. So, when he proposes marriage, and she turns up a sex tape with the popstar on it, the two fight and the man’s fiancee ends up gruesomely crushed in a garage. Crushed by the daughter’s car. Which she is subsequently seen driving erratically all over the city and later pulled out of in a semi-conscious state.
In short, a man’s fiancee is murdered and his daughter is the number one suspect.
Asian inscrutability figures big here. Even they don’t know what they’re feeling.
The father hires the best lawyers money can buy, and then replace them with a fledgling lawyer who is a friend of his daughter. The team wants her to plea bargain to 20 years while the friend is willing to believe that the daughter is innocent, so are his motivations to get her off or is he maneuvering for some other, nefarious purpose. He does a lot of maneuvering here, and seldom lets his emotions show. Ultimately, this turns out to be his movie, even when more time is spent on scrappy young lawyer chick Choi.
And, scrappy young lawyer chick Choi is scrappy indeed. She manages, with the help of her equally scrappy roommate, to uncover video footage of the incident after a mysterious third party smashes into a store to get same. And when things look like they’re going to go south, she Does The Right Thing leading to the Big Reveal at the end of the second act.
But wait, it’s the end of the second act, so the Big Reveal is actually just a double-bluff reverso! The Koreans love the double-bluff reverso, as I noted in my previous Korean outing. And just like Memoir of a Murderer, the double-bluff here is expertly done, twisting back around to a more logical, believable conclusion, revealed early in the third act.
But wait! It’s early in the third act, so what’s left of the movie? Well, when an American movie would’ve ended (“monster’s dead, movie’s over”, as we say) this movie goes on for another, I don’t know, 20 minutes? There are no more twists left, it’s all basically exposition of a done-deal: How the whole shebang was pulled off. I was inclined to get bored, in my American way, because, hey, I know what happened, no need to belabor the point, but the last few minutes raised from a simple thriller to a fine drama. (Even moreso than Memoir.)
Min-sik Choi (best known for Oldboy) turns in an amazing performance, after over an hour-and-a-half of showing next to no emotion at all. You get to see his motivations, and all the of the questions raised are answered without much in the way of dialogue, but merely in how he treats people. Magnificent and moving, and (as noted) unexpected after 90-100 minutes of everyone acting around him.
I liked it. But then, I realized, I’ve never seen a Korean movie I didn’t like. At least not in the theater.
Here was a really Korean thing I enjoyed, too: Tae-san (Choi) is taking his fiancee Yuna (the improbably named Ha Nee Lee, “Honey Lee”) out to propose to her and he’s got this beautiful personal yacht, small enough that he can pilot yet big enough for an amazingly appointed downstairs cabin, and he has the cabin appointed with expensive flowers and I think there’s some pricey champagne involved. As a gift he gives her a watch worth $500,000—this becomes a major plot point.
Then, as they’re basking in the glory of their future union, he gets out the styrofoam cups and they have ramen.
Now, I’m sure it was the nicest possible ramen, but I found that amazingly charming nonetheless.
Recommended, as are all Korean films.