“The Terror Live” is the second feature from Korean writer director Kim Byung Woo, following up on his oddball 2007 indie “Written”. The film is a high concept thriller, with an entertaining story revolving around a radio host who ends up caught in a deadly cat and mouse game with a terrorist during a live broadcast. With actor Ha Jung Woo (“The Yellow Sea”) in the lead, the film uses its premise for social commentary as well as excitement, and went down well with the public and critics, pulling in more than 5 million admissions despite being released on the same day as Bong Joon Ho’s highly anticipated blockbuster “Snowpiercer”, as well as winning Kim Best New Director at the Blue Dragon Awards.
Ha Jung Woo plays Yoon Young Hwa, a former top news anchor, who after a public disgrace now works as a radio talk show host, much to his bitterness and anger. One day, he receives a call from a man threatening to blow up Mapo Bridge in Seoul, right outside his offices, which he dismisses as a prank. However, the terrorist follows through, and in the aftermath of the explosion, with the authorities and press trying to score the story and nail the criminal, Yoon gets him back on the line, seeing it as a chance to get his career back on track and to impress his ruthless producer (Lee Kyung Young, “A Company Man”). With the government and politicians getting involved and the bomber demanding an apology from the president for an industrial accident during the construction of the bridge, the stakes are quickly raised – not least since he claims to have planted another bomb in Yoon’s earpiece.
As a thriller, there’s a lot to like about “The Terror Live”. Kim Byung Woo puts in some very solid work as both writer and director, with a tight script that plays out in real time, making the very most of its central gambit and wringing every last ounce of tension from it. Taking place mainly in the confines of the broadcast studio, there’s a skilfully manipulated sense of sweaty claustrophobia throughout, which helps to accentuate Yoon’s growing desperation and to put the viewer in his shoes. Things escalate with near manic speed, and the film is fast moving enough to distract from its various plot holes and more implausible moments, its short running time of an hour and a half ensuring a fairly breathless viewing experience. Despite its setting, there’s still plenty of action, or at least the illusion of action (thanks to plenty of fast editing and creative camerawork), and enough scenes of violence and destruction to give it the kind of edge it needs.
All of this is impressive enough, if fairly standard, and what sets “The Terror Live” apart somewhat is its social conscience and sense of anger. Though for some viewers its plot might eventually go a little too far in hammering home its message, there’s definitely something to be said for its proud cynicism, and as a commercial production it’s remarkably anti-authoritarian in its aims and beliefs. Without giving anything away, cover-ups, corruption and greed are very much the order of the day, and the film has an enjoyably anarchistic streak that Kim’s not afraid to follow through on.
Fittingly, there are no real heroes here, and though Yoon does develop from his cocky and smug persona of the opening act, he’s not much more than a puppet being pulled around by a series of self-serving puppeteers, entirely as a result of his own arrogance and ego. Pretty much every character, his fellow reporter ex-wife aside, is underhanded to one degree or another, though Kim’s script and direction are slick enough to make the film engaging while operating in a murky moral grey area and without giving the viewer anyone obvious to root for.
Though “The Terror Live” is perhaps not quite as clever as it thinks it is, and though its message and ambitions might not click with all viewers, it’s great to see an action film that ticks all the right genre boxes while actually having a point. Kim Byung Woo is clearly a talented director and a man with ideas, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does next, as based on the evidence here, he’s clearly one to watch in the future.
Byeong-woo Kim (director) / Byeong-woo Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Jin-ho Choi … Lee Sang-Jin
Jung-woo Ha … Yeong-hwa Yoon
Hae-in Kim … No Hyoun-Jin
Da-wit Lee … Park Shin-Woo
Kyeong-yeong Lee … Cha Dae-eun
Kim So-Jin … Lee Ji-Soo
Hye-jin Jeon … Park Jung-Min