It’s interesting to see the way other cultures portray their media. I’m not talking about the television pundits that get across important plot points in so many films; I mean real portrayals of the way the media reacts in extreme situations. If there’s a crime, do the cameras run towards the victim or away? I know how an American crew would work, but I don’t know much about the South Korean media.
I’m not going to claim that Confession of Murder is an accurate portrayal of media in South Korea, because it gives me no reason to believe it’s an accurate portrayal of anything, but films like this don’t come out of nowhere. In somebody’s mind, it is an over-the-top-but-still-fundamentally-sound vision of how that country would react to something appalling and bizarre, and it’s fascinating to watch.
If only there weren’t so many fights on top of moving cars.
[For the next few weeks, we will be covering the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival and the 2013 Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF 2013 coverage, click here. For Japan Cuts 2013 coverage, click here.]
Confession of Murder (Naega Salinbeomida | 내가 살인범이다)
Director: Jung Byoung-Gil
Country: South Korea
Confession of Murder is the title of a book that the film centers around. It’s kind of weird, because the book itself says “I Am the Murderer” in English on its cover (which is the literally translated title of the film), but someone decided Confession of Murder was more marketable. Fine. The book itself is a gruesome account of ten killings that took place more than fifteen years prior, written by the killer himself. Why publicly confess? Because the statute of limitations on murder cases had expired, meaning he could no longer be charged with the crime.
If that seems unbelievable… well, it’s not. Prior to December 2007, there actually was a fifteen-year statute of limitations on murder cases (it has since been expanded to twenty-five), so this sort of event could have actually taken place and the police force wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. The United States, for those curious, does not have a statute of limitations for cases involving homicide, and there was talk of implementing the same policy in South Korea. I haven’t been able to find anything about the conclusion of that discussion, though…
Anyways, the killer, Lee Doo-Suk (Park Si-Hoo), claims that the book was published to confess in the way that Catholics do: he’s looking for the forgiveness of the people he hurt and to give some kind of closure to the whole thing. He looks both to the families of his victims and to Detective Choi Hyung-Goo (Jung Jae-Young), who had been assigned to his case and received a few scars of his own in his attempts to catch the killer.
It is during all of this that Confession of Murder is at his best. In these scenes, where Doo-Suk’s adoring fans (extras who were actually fans of actor Park Si-Hoo) are proclaiming their love with signs and the media is swept up, there lies a very serious commentary on the fetishization of violence in culture. Park Si-Hoo is a very good-looking man (although he looks a bit too young for the part, even at 37), and that is the point. Another face on a book called I Am the Murderer/Confession of Murder would have pushed people away. A disfigured or even generically ugly killer would have received some attention, but not nearly the same degree.
This is a statement that applies across cultures. Were this sort of thing possible in the United States, I could absolutely see a handsome killer getting that kind of love and attention. Imagine the tweets: “Not gonna lie.. I think I’d let him kill me #sosexy #lovehim #awkwardtweet #dontevencare” or “Call me crazy buttttttttt I would let him kill me anyyyy day.” (Think I’m hilarious and original? These are taken from actual tweets written about Chris Brown after the 2012 Grammys.) In some ways, it reminded me of As Luck Would Have It, also an over-the-top indictment of the media’s obsession with tragedy and horror that is relevant far beyond Spain’s borders.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the whole film. There’s the revenge plot hatched up by the victims’ families (which on a surface level reminded me of Park Chan-Wook’s Lady Vengeance, but is very different), and it’s fine that that exists. Even the crazy way they go about trying to capture Lee Doo-Suk didn’t bother me, because Confession of Murder takes place in a crazy world where people do crazy things. The problem is that for some reason Confession of Murder takes place in a crazy world where the rules of physics don’t really apply. Basically all of the action is over-the-top in the worst way possible, coming to a spectacularly stupid head during a highway fight scene that wouldn’t have been out of place in The Matrix. And even though there’s enough (bad) CGI during these scenes to make George Lucas weep, the actual combat itself is average at best. Punches clearly don’t connect and the loose connection with reality makes it hard to appreciate the rare instances where it could look good.
The film starts with a crazy chase sequence, one which has people jumping between buildings and doing all sorts of other not-real things, but it still felt grounded enough that what would come later surprised me. It’s silly, but it’s not that silly. Plenty of much more serious films have done similar chases without veering off like Confession of Murder did, and I think that’s part of why it’s so disappointing. In that opening chase, there are a few awesome moments that reminded me of The Man from Nowhere, specifically the shot in that where the protagonist jumps out a second story window and is followed by the camera. I love that shot, and Confession of Murder does similar things, but it goes from being cool to irritating too fast.
It’s a shame, because this negates the impact much of the film’s drama. A film only focused on the relationships between the Detective, the killer, the familes, and the media would have been much tighter and more compelling. A film that kept some of the action stuff but toned it down would have also been better. I still think the film is worth watching, and the story goes in some interesting (and satisfying) places… but I just can’t give the blanket recommendation I was hoping for.