“No Doubt” is a Korean suspense thriller revolving around the awkward subject of a sex offender in a small rural community being blamed for the disappearance of a young girl. The film was directed by independent helmer Park Soo Young (“Be My Guest”), and uses the premise to explore themes of mob mentality and persecution, tackling some challenging and uncomfortable issues while at the same time presenting a complex and involving mystery. Actor Lee Jung Jin (“Troublemaker”) takes the difficult role of the suspect, with Kim Tae Woo (“Hahaha”) as the tortured father trying to take revenge for his daughter’s death.
The film begins with the quiet Se Jin (Lee Jung Jin) moving to the village with his mother and sister, opening a bike rental shop and keeping very much to himself. Tragedy strikes when a seven year old girl goes missing, shattering the world of her devoted father Choong Sik (Kim Tae Woo). Investigating the case, a local detective discovers that Se Jin is a convicted child molester, a fact which immediately makes him the prime suspect after the girl’s body is found in a nearby field. Choong Sik is beside himself with rage, and spreads news of Se Jin’s crimes around the neighbourhood, leading to an escalating campaign of hate against him and his unfortunate family.
“No Doubt” is a fine example of well-crafted storytelling, with a lot of thought and effort obviously having gone into the script. The plot unravels skilfully, and the film is very tense throughout, aiming for gradual revelations rather than artificial twists, resulting in a gripping, old-fashioned mystery feel. Much of this revolves around whether or not Se Jin committed the awful crime, and if not, then who did, and the film does a very good job of keeping the viewer guessing without too much manipulation or use of red herrings. There are certainly a fair few suspects, and though ultimately it’s not too hard to see where things are going the film holds the interest right through its short, fast paced running time, clocking in at less than an hour and a half. The film also wins points for being one of the few to make truly good use of flashbacks, which crop up as the police confront potential witnesses, with the viewer always being aware that they may not be reliable, as emphasised by Park’s employing shaky camerawork and faded colours.
Given the grim subject matter, the film has a fittingly dark, noirish feel, with the pleasant rural scenery at odds with the unfolding drama. Thankfully, aside from a few flashes of violence, the film doesn’t feature any graphic depictions of child abuse or murder, though it’s still pretty harrowing and hard hitting stuff, with some horrific dialogue from Se Jin during police interviews. Park uses the fact that he is a convicted paedophile to explore some very challenging ground, as whether he killed the girl or not, it is clear that he is far from being blameless and is still a deeply twisted and possibly dangerous individual. With him not being obviously sympathetic, the film focuses on the community’s ire being taken out on his mother and sister, whose lives have long been ruined by his awful deeds. This, along with the question as to whether Choong Sik’s actions are morally justifiable, and the way in which the local people turn against each other when the lack of evidence gives rise to frustration, makes the film even more tense and dramatic.
Through this, Park addresses issues of understandable prejudice and the oft-repeated platitude of people being innocent till proven guilty, with the witch hunt against Se Jin touching on questions of police procedure, human rights, and even forgiveness in the face of monstrousness. Credit must be given to actor Lee Jung Jin, who does a superb job in an incredibly difficult role, adding a touch of humanity to a loathsome, yet wretched figure. Although Kim Tae Woo has a somewhat easier task as the grief-stricken, vengeance seeking father, he also does a very creditable job, and helps to add further depth to the film’s emotional core.
“No Doubt” works both as an edgy mystery and as a hard-hitting crime drama, and it must be hoped that the distasteful subject matter won’t put too many potential viewers off what is a very accomplished and well crafted film. Park Soo Young successfully makes the transition from the indie scene to something more mainstream, and proves himself an interesting new talent who seems unafraid to tackle dark and unpleasant themes.
Park Soo-yeong (director) / Ahn Seung-hwan (screenplay)
CAST: Lee Jeong-jin