secret to a successful thriller is simple: an involving storyline for the
audience to be sucked in by and involving characters to take the audience
through that story. Mood and atmosphere will only get you so far; you need flesh
and blood to make the mood and atmosphere matter. The Korean "Tell
Me Something", a 1999 stab at David Fincher-esque filmmaking, got the
atmosphere right, but misfired with a terribly dull leading lady. So too with
"H", another 2002 serial killer film out of Korea.
On almost every technical level, first-time helmer
Jong-hyuk Lee's "H" is an accomplished film. Technically speaking. The
movie falters when it comes to characters, many of who are either ill-conceived
or poorly cast. That said, the storyline, a cold police procedural, is mostly
drab and the Third Act twist ending is overly convoluted, not to mention being
too similar to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Cure".
The film stars Jung-ah Yum as Detective Kim, a cerebral
female cop in charge of an investigation concerning a series of slayings around
the city. The killings begin when a young woman's body is found at a landfill
one rainy night. A serial killer, it seems, is on the loose. The victims are all
young, pregnant, and unwed teens. Immediately Kim notices that the killer's M.O.
is very similar to the ones committed by another serial killer currently on
Death Row named Shin Hyun.
Kim in the investigation is brash Detective Kang (Jin-hee Ji), who visits Shin
in prison for answers. Alas, Shin is suffering from Anthony Hopkins syndrome,
and is intent on playing games with the hotheaded cop, even if he only ends up
looking like a third rate Hannibal the Cannibal. It doesn't help that the actor
playing the incarcerated serial killer is much too young and is liable to make
the audience snicker at his completely unwarranted smugness. Needless to say,
speaking in riddles more comfortable in a .05-cent fortune cookie, Shin proves
to be unhelpful.
While "H" clearly blunders with multiple casting
mistakes, the biggest flaw has to be lead Jung-ah Yum. Playing Kim as a somber,
cold, and calculating cop, Yum doesn't allow her character to show a single
shred of emotion, and the character oftentimes is seen staring blankly back at
the audience for long periods. Apparently the suicide of her husband, who was
also a Detective, has left Kim a cold fish all over. While her character is
often referred to as a smart cop, I wonder why the actress and the director seem
to equate "smart" with "lifeless".
As if to make up for his co-star's complete lack of
personality, Jin-hee Ji goes overboard. Ironically, while the script turns Yum
into a stoic, lifeless carcass, it also turns Ji's Kang into an emotional wreck
that doesn't seem capable of adjusting to life as a cop, or a world full of
murderers. Humorously, on more than one occasion this leads to scenes of the
combustible Kang bursting at the seams with unrestrained emotion while the
catatonic Kim loiters in the background, looking like a cadaver that someone
forgot to take to the morgue.
style and mood, "H" isn't all bad. Much of the film takes place at
night, although "H" doesn't quite strike the dread of "Tell me
Something". Lee uses music well, especially during a chase early on that
ends in a nightclub. The sequence is so understated that when the violence
begins, it hits the audience hard. "H's" other advantage is that it
embraces gore. Throats getting slit have never looked so perversely excellent as
they do here.
Alas, for all its technical know-how, there's simply not an
engaging story, or characters, to keep one's attention. The storyline meanders,
with the previously mentioned ending coming out of left field. Unfortunately, if
you've seen Kurosawa's "Cure" or even Benny Chan's "Heroic
Duo", you've already seen "H's" last-minute gimmick.