“Parallel Life” is a film with an interesting concept, that certain people can find themselves repeating the lives of others from years gone by, following the same series of events towards the same fate. Inevitably, director Kwon Ho Young and writer Han Jeung Ae use this idea to propel their protagonist, played by actor Ji Jin Hee (recently in the violent “Soo”) into an increasingly desperate situation, and as such the film is an interesting attempt to mix thrills and philosophy.
Ji Jin Hee plays Suk Hyun, a young judge rising fast up the ladder, who is known for making tough and uncompromising decisions. His carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos after his wife is brutally murdered, apparently by a former criminal called Su Yung (Ha Jung Woo, “The Chaser”) with a grudge against him for a past ruling. It soon becomes apparent that the case is far from closed, as a reporter contacts Suk Hyun, informing him that his life appears to be following the exact same path of another judge some 30 years back – a prediction which means that Su Young will shortly escape from jail to murder him and his daughter. With the help of prosecutor Gang Sung (Lee Jong Hyuk, also in the superb “Crush and Blush”), he desperately tries to stop this from happening whilst uncovering the dark truth behind the death of his unfortunate predecessor.
“Parallel Life” gets off to an engaging start, disorientating the viewer and dropping plenty of ominous hints as to the coming storm. It quickly becomes clear that writer director team Han and Kwon are aiming for a more thoughtful thriller than average, and they achieve this very well, keeping the film moving along at a good pace, whilst spending a fair amount of time exploring the central premise. The whole parallel life theory itself is quite fascinating, playing upon themes of coincidence and fate, and it helps to build tension and feelings of paranoia as the layers of the plot and its various conspiracies are skilfully unwrapped.
Even if the viewer doesn’t buy into this gambit, it still gives the film an involving structure and a definite momentum as it rushes towards its climax, with plenty of revelations and twists. Some of these don’t quite work, and the film does try to pack in a few too many obviously Hitchcockian character reversals and red herrings into the last third, though it remains entertaining and gripping even when straining belief somewhat. Ji Jin Hee does a solid job in the lead role, with his initially unlikeable judge becoming gradually more sympathetic as the film goes on, not least due to the never ending series of trials and torments which befall him.
Kwon’s direction is tight, and the film’s action scenes help to add some well handled excitement that nicely offset its more ponderous moments, mostly in the form of chase scenes, with a few sudden shots of violence. As the film picks up speed during its latter stages, the camera work gets more kinetic, with some fast editing that thankfully never overdoes things with needless flashiness. The film does get pretty dark once all cards are on the table, and although the ending itself is fairly predictable, it still manages to end on a satisfyingly grim and ambiguous note, enough so to keep the viewer thinking after the credits have rolled.
All of this combines to mark “Parallel Life” as a superior suspense thriller, and as a film which proves that it is perfectly possible for genre efforts to be both exciting and thought provoking. Kwon Ho Young and writer Han Jeung Ae prove to be a potent team, turning what in other hands could have been a fairly silly high concept actioner into something far more rewarding.
Kwon Ho-Young (director) / Han Jeung-ae (screenplay)
CAST: Ji Jin-hee, Lee Jong-hyuk, Park Byeong-eun, Yoon Se-ah, Oh Hyeon-kyeong