If movies have taught me anything (and to be honest, they’ve taught me very little, natch), it’s never to drive cross-country without either a gun or a really big bodyguard. I bring this up only because recent movies like “Joyride”, “Jeepers Creepers,” and now “Say Yes”, have proven to me that really really bad things can happen to you while on a cross-country road trip. That said, “Say Yes” is one of the best thrillers I’ve seen, and (dare I say it?) I’m waiting for a sequel with bated breath.
I am flabbergasted by just how good “Say Yes” is. Up front, the film looks and sounds like another generic Slasher/Thriller about a psycho who decides to mess with a couple on a road trip. In essence, it really is just that: a psycho named Em (although his name is never actually mentioned) played by Joong-Hoon Park decides, seemingly on a whim, to target a (seemingly) happy couple on a Winter road trip. After insinuating himself into their car as a passenger, Em doesn’t wait long before confessing to Yun-hie (Sang Mi Chu) and Jeong-hyun (Ju-hyuk Kim) that he can’t decide which one of them he wants to kill.
After that sudden and shocking sequence, the movie never lets up. The young couple becomes the sole obsession of Em, who tells them that because he can no longer feel anything (as a side effect of not sleeping very well for 3 years), he no longer cares about what he does to them or to himself. This leaves the couple with two options: fight back or flee. At first Jeong-hyun decides to fight back, only to find himself in even more trouble (as Em planned). After a while it becomes obvious that the couple can’t shake the persistent Em simply because Em has been doing this longer and he can predict their behaviors and reactions, and are ready to counter at every turn.
The psychotic Em is played by Joong-Hoon Park (“Nowhere to Hide”), who gives a devastatingly effective performance as a blissfully evil man who lives to torture and kill because doing anything else no longer matters. Park exudes menace, even as he’s being pummeled by a defiant Jeong-hyun, who soon realizes he’s no physical match for the swift and violent Em. This guy is not only dangerous, but he’s also determined and smart and he thinks ahead. Pray that you never lock eyes with him in a diner.
Writer Hye-young Yeo has fashioned a tight and complex screenplay here. While Jeong-hyun and Yun-hie seems perfectly happy on the outside, there’s a real struggle to understand each other. In one very telling moment, Jeong-hyun says “I love you” to Yun-hie during an intimate scene, to which Yun-hie replies with a nod and nothing else. This odd response comes into further play when, captured by Em, Jeong-hyun is forced to decide rather to be tortured or “allow” Em to kill Yun-hie. (He’s asked to “say yes” to Em, hence the title.) Will he do it? Or better yet, in his place would Yun-hie do it?
For a moment, just a brief moment, “Say Yes” threatens to wander into Slasher territory where Em becomes an unstoppable machine even the Terminator would envy. Fortunately the filmmakers manage to regain their senses and return to the things that made the film so good for the first hour and change: an intense and unpredictable suspense thriller that while staying within the borders of its genre is still unpredictable. (And the ending. My God, the ending! Let’s just say the phrase, “A geyser of blood” is not an exaggeration.)
The direction by Sung-Hong Kim is tight and balanced, and the director manages to capture all the right moments that pass between couple Yun-hie and Jeong-hyun. We are never sure if this two will split at a moment’s notice, or if they are willing to “go at it together.” There is also a sense that Yun-hie might abandon Jeong-hyun at any moment, and sometimes we wonder if she actually realizes just how dangerous of a creature Em is. It also helps that actress Sang Mi Chu is a beautiful woman, and every time the camera lingers on her lovely face you can’t help but feel for the misery that Em is putting her through.
“Say Yes” is a superior Suspense Thriller with terrific direction, a tight and involving script, and a stellar cast. The movie never becomes predictable, and every moment, even the quiet ones, crackles with tension. You can’t ask for more than that in a genre film.
Sung-Hong Kim (director) / Dong-sam Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Joong-Hoon Park …. Em
Sang Mi Chu …. Yun-hie
Ju-hyuk Kim …. Jeong-hyun