By Lee Hyo-won
In "A Million"
, Jo Min-ho
offers something brilliantly noir and dramatically stimulating that goes beyond the often scathing or superficial moral laundering that an action-packed thriller tries to rub into the narrative.
How far would one go to win $1 million? In an attempt to answer the question, the movie invites viewers to join its star cast through the lush wilderness of Perth, Australia, an inland island encircled by sea, desert, jungle and river.
The director of "Les Formidables
" offers a story about a reality TV show gone awry ― or rather, just as planned in all its hardboiled horror. As expected, it begins with some caricatured characters falling victim to money lust and displaying savage instincts for survival.
Compared to its computer graphics-ridden competitors in the summer box office, the mid-budget film relies less on the art of spectacle. "A Million"
is not without its anticlimactic moments and could have spun stronger, more atmospheric visuals in the exotic locale. Rather it grips the audience with the classic premise of a tightly knit script, seamless acting ― and toiling ― and layers of edgy, involving drama that merits comparison to Bong Joon-ho
's visionary films.
The film is unique in that it does not explore a "Lord of the Flies"-style awakening of basic instincts in the not-so-warm bosom of Mother Nature. Rather it suggests that one could take an urbanite out of the city but not the urban apathy out of the urbanite ― how sense of responsibility often becomes diffused among bystanders of violence.
Eight lucky ― and later not so lucky ― people from all different walks of life are chosen in a draw to take part in a sensational televised game program: apathetic documentary filmmaker Gi-tae (played by the talented Park Hae-il
); Yu-jin, who makes a living on a string of part-time jobs (the high-in-demand Shin Min-ah
); hot-tempered marine-turned-janitor Cheol-heui ("Haeundae"
star Lee Min-ki
); timid law student Ji-eun ("Chaw"
heroine Jung Yu-mi
); a slick financial analyst (Lee Chun-hee
); a cutthroat swimming athlete (Yoo Na-mi
); aspiring actress-cum-bargirl Bo-yeong (Ko Eun-ah
); and jobless glutton Seung-ho (Kim Hak-sun
Everyone has come to Perth for one thing, to win a million bucks. Soon, however, they discover that the reality TV program's producer Jang (charismatic screen personality Park Hee-soon
) really meant it when he said it was a survival game, and the kooky-eyed man makes no secret of it
Participants realize that the omnipresent cameras are for more than just live online streaming ― it's more like a Big Brother method to keep an eye on them at all times in the secluded venue (though here the movie does not go off on a tangent to explore the effects of broadcasting murder like the cyber killer movie "Untraceable"). But no matter how hard they try to break the rules, they cannot call the game quits.
Characters propel "A Million"
. Joe offers a roster of the most obviously contemptible, the worthiness of sympathy and even the forgettable. But the personalities here often enter a murky gray zone when forced to fight with their own selves under pressing situations. It is noir to the core, but not misanthropic in its deeper exploration of the human thirst for redemption and revenge.
In theaters Aug. 6. Distributed by Sidus FNH.