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Although early trailers seemed to suggest an Asian stab at the increasingly overpopulated zombie genre, “Deranged” thankfully turned out to be something very different and considerably more intriguing. Directed by Park Jeong Woo (“Big Bang”), the film is actually a disease outbreak thriller, quite rare in Korean cinema, mixed with conspiracy elements and horror, and proved very popular at the domestic box office, topping the charts for two weeks running. Taking the lead role is one of the country’s most talented and acclaimed actors, Kim Myung Min (“Closer to Heaven”, “Detective K”), with support from Kim Dong Wan of the pop group Shinhwa, Moon Jung Hee (“Cafe Noir”), and Honey Lee (“Pasta”).
Kim Myung Min plays Jae Hyuk, a scientist who has been reduced to working as a pharmaceutical company salesman to support his family after being ruined due to bad stock market advice from his cop brother Jae Pil (Kim Dong Wan). His life and the country are thrown into chaos when drowned bodies start turning up in rivers throughout Korea without explanation, which turns out to be the start of a deadly pandemic whose victims exhibit an insane, violent thirst before dying. With more and more people falling prey to what seems to be an unknown disease, the government steps in and declares a national emergency, forcing the infected into camps to protect the populace while a cure is desperately sought. Jae Hyuk’s worst fears are realised when his wife (Moon Jung Hee) and two young children start showing symptoms, his only hope lying with Jae Pil, who has been investigating the origins of the outbreak, uncovering a terrifying conspiracy in the process.
There really aren’t enough plague thrillers these days, and “Deranged” is certainly one of the best either from Asia or indeed anywhere for some time. Park Jeong Woo does a superb job of combining enjoyable genre staples such as scenes of mass panic, forced internment camps and ominous news updates with effective social commentary and a tough cynical edge. The film is also surprisingly strong in terms of its human drama, which in Korean cinema often simply equals melodrama and a long third act filled with tears, Park presenting an interesting and likeable set of characters, boosted by some excellent performances, in particular from the always reliable Kim Myung Min and Moon Jung Hee, convincing an moving as a mother trying to keep her children alive in an increasingly hopeless situation. Though emotional and human, the film balances this well with a shocking conspiracy that though sinister is well within the bounds of belief. All of this grounds the film wonderfully, and this realism is the source of its powerful gut-punch, never letting the viewer doubt for a second that this is something which could actually happen in real life.
As well as serious and substantial, the film is also very entertaining, Park keeping things moving along at a fast pace, expertly shifting between intimate family concerns and nationwide panic. The film crams a huge amount into a relatively short running time of less than two hours and is tense throughout, hurtling along breathlessly, its narrative streamlined and building through good use of revelations and a heightening sense of control being lost.
There’s a good amount of action along the way, with several impressive large scale riots and civil disturbances, Park showing a fine handling of set pieces, along with the expected chase scenes and occasional flash of violence. Though never too nasty, and perhaps not quite as gruesome as its really quite horrifying subject matter (best left unspoiled in this review, though the nature of the outbreak once revealed is genuinely unpleasant), there are a fairly few squirm inducing moments scattered throughout, enough so to give the film a visceral kick and hammer home its monstrous yet realistic scenario.
“Deranged” is definitely one of the year’s best thrillers, and a fine combination of disease, disaster and conspiracy, an entertaining and exciting film that grips from start to finish. Kim Myung Min is great as ever, and with Park Jeong Woo showing a steady hand and keen sense for what makes the genre tick, it’s one which should go down very well with viewers of all persuasions.
Jeong-woo Park (director) / Jeong-woo Park (screenplay)
CAST: Moon Jeong-hee
Dong-wan Kim … Jae-pil
Kim Myeong-min … Jae-hyuk