Jung Yeon Sik makes his screenwriting and directorial debut with “The Five”, an adaptation of his own popular webcomic “The 5ive Hearts”, backed by blockbuster producer Kang Woo Suk and his company Cinema Service. A dark revenge thriller with a twist, the film is headlined by actress Kim Sun Ah, marking her return to the big screen after popular roles in romantic television series like “I Do, I Do”, and “Scent of a Woman”.
It’s definitely a bit of a change for Kim, here playing Eun A, a woman whose perfect life is ruined by a particularly vicious serial killer (Ohn Joo Wan, “The Taste of Money”), who murders her husband and young daughter, leaving her for dead. Eun A clings to life, and despite being wheelchair-bound leaves the hospital vowing to track down her enemy and make him pay. After the police prove useless, she recruits four societal outcasts, all desperately seeking organ transplants for different reasons, including a cop (Lee Cheong Ah, “Finding Mr. Destiny”), a North Korean defector (Shin Jung Geun, “Secretly, Greatly”), a former gangster (Ma Dong Suk, “Rough Play”) and a nervous doctor Jeong In Ki (“The Tower”), and persuades them to help her track him down, promising her own body as payment on delivery. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned, and the killer turns the tables and starts hunting them himself.
“The Five” is one of those films which basically throws together elements of other popular genre films and attempts to ramp things up with a gimmicky twist. Certainly, fans of Korean revenge cinema will recognise a variety of plot devices and themes from a number of key films from the last fifteen years or so, including “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”, “The Man from Nowhere”, “Traffickers”, and many, many others, from the vengeful mother through to the impossibly fresh faced young killer and the black market organ shenanigans. Thankfully, though he borrows liberally from the work of others, Jung Yeon Sik shows a fine knowledge of what makes the genre work, and skilfully puts the various pieces together in entertaining style. The film moves along at a fast pace, distracting the viewer from its dearth of originality, and though the ending is never really in doubt, Jung at least packs in plenty of well-timed twists along the way. There’s a solid amount of action, mostly in the form of chase scenes or brawls, and the film also benefits from some reasonably gruesome sequences, with enough blood being spilled to give it a bit of a punch, and this similarly helps to make it a nastily fun thrill ride.
Where the film does surprise is in its odd sense of humour, Jung mixing what really should be depressing and grim subject matter with some strange moments of levity. This works better than it should, and while it defuses some of the potential tension, the film wins points for not taking itself too seriously. This is just as well, as upon reflection it really makes very little sense, its flimsy plot careening its way through a minefield of gaping inconsistencies, especially when it comes to its bizarre and at times laughable villain. This combines well with the overall lack of pretentions of grandeur or substance, and by focusing on its more visceral elements, the film very much plays to its strengths.
Kim Sun Ah’s strong powerful lead performance keeps things from getting too daft, giving the film a semi-painful emotional core and some measure of audience involvement. Proving very capable at playing against type, Kim is pretty unrecognisable and shows no hint of the romantic heroine roles she’s most well-known for, making Eun A a believably damaged and borderline psychotic protagonist throughout. Though it’s her film, the supporting cast of recognisable faces and character actors are also on good form, and part of the enjoyment here is in the fact that none of her four partners in crime are either nice or trustworthy people – indeed, during the early stages of the film it frequently seems like Eun A is in more danger from them than the pompous and not terribly threatening killer.
There’s a lot to be said for Jung Yeon Sik’s cavalier, gung-ho handling, and while a bit hard to take seriously, “The Five” is a satisfying and pleasantly screwy Korean revenge thriller, anchored by the excellent Kim Sun Ah. What the film lacks in substance it makes up for with fun, and viewers more interested in shocks and twists than sense should have a perfectly good time with its modest charms.
Jeong Yeon-sik (director) / Jeong Yeon-sik (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Seon-ah … Eun-ah
On Joo-wan … Jae-wook
Ma Dong-seok … Dae-ho
Sin Jeong-geun … Nam-cheol
Jeong In-gi … Cheol-min
Lee Cheong-ah … Jeong-ha