A high school girl’s obsessive crush on her teacher ruins the lives of all concerned in “Innocent Thing”, the latest offering from Korean director Kim Tae Kyun, which sees him reuniting with actor Jang Hyuk (“The Flu”) some 13 years after popular hit “Volcano High”. The film also stars young actress Jo Bo Ah in the dangerous Lolita role of the title, making her big screen debut after television roles in series such as “Shut up Flower Boy Band”.
Jang Hyuk plays Joon Ki, a former athlete now working as a PE teacher at an all-girls high school. A handsome fellow used to being the focus of his young students’ flirtatious attentions, he’s taken aback when a girl called Young Eun (Jo Bo Ah) starts trying to cross the line. After things come to a head during a thunderstorm, Jang Hyuk finds his life falling apart, Young Eun turning out to be a particularly troubled individual who refuses to leave him alone. Persistently working her way into his life, she even persuades his pregnant wife Seo Yeon (Sun Woo Sun, “Battlefield Heroes”) to take her in for after school tutoring, putting pressure on their marriage as her behaviour intensifies.
The whole psycho school girl temptress plot has obviously been done before, though Kim Tae Kyun in general successfully manages to transplant the story to Korea, and the film works well as a modest piece of genre schlock. While the film does have some social commentary, it’s definitely better taken as a suspenser, Kim framing and shooting it to a large extent as a horror – indeed, during its early stages the film frequently feels almost like it’s heading into “Whispering Corridors” territory. Boosted by an above average and some attractive production values, the film is visually quite impressive, Kim using awkward camera angles and shadows to maximise the tension, and it’s reasonably atmospheric in places – textbook stuff to be sure, though effective and entertaining.
While fairly predictable, not to mention overlong at nearly two hours, the film has a real sense of its characters being trapped and doomed, and benefits from an over the top final third which, though not exactly believable, is infinitely preferable to the usual teary melodrama that tends to hamstring so many Korean genre outings. With a few bloody scenes here and there, plus the requisite (tasteful) sex and semi-nudity, giving the film an appropriate edge and distracting from some of the lulls and overall lack of originality, and Kim for the most part presses the right popcorn buttons.
The film also benefits from some decent character writing, and Jo Bo Ah impresses as the increasingly unhinged Young Eun. Though the script doesn’t give her much in the way of depth, aside from some vague need for a father figure, Jo succeeds in making the viewer care about what happens to her at the same time as waiting for her to do something more with her box cutter knife than waving it around suggestively. Given that he’s essentially in the wrong despite her seduction crusade, her relationship with Joon Ki has dramatic weight, and the film does well never to make him very likeable or sympathetic. Where the film does take a somewhat unexpected turn is in the way that he becomes side-lined during the later stages, the narrative focusing more on the relationship between Young Eun and Seo Yeon. Kim makes the most of their clashing social anxieties and desires, and this battle provides the film with its best moments and shocks.
Without bringing anything new to the psycho crush genre, “Innocent Thing” is a respectable and well-made Korean version of the form. Kim Tae Kyun faithfully dolls out the familiarities with enough verve to make them seem less like clichés, and with Jo Bo Ah holding things together as the young manic, genre fans should find it a solid time-waster.
Tae-gyun Kim (director)/ Lee Seong-min-I (screenplay)
CAST: Lee Do-Ah … Teacher
Hyuk Jang … Jun-ki
Bo Ah Jo … Young-eun
Woo-seon Seon … Seo-yeon