Ga-in (played by Hong Soo-ah) is a woman with reasonably good fashion sense who can pass for some level of happiness. But in reality Ga-in has a miserable job and is on the lookout for something new. It's from here that Ga-in randomly stumbles upon her old friend Eun-jeong (played by Im Sung-eon) and grows to admire the woman's more sincerely happy life with husband Woo-jin (played by Yang Myeong-hoon) and daughter Seo-ah (played by Kim Ha-yoo). But then, was Ga-in's encounter with Eun-jeong really mere coincidence?
...Even after having watched "Malice" I'm still not actually sure. There's a great deal of extant material in this movie that's not terribly relevant. Like how Ga-in can speak Chinese for some reason, or how there's this guy hanging aound who follows Eun-jeong's housekeeper. Other information is specifically spotlighted and then never explained, like how Ga-in is able to discern what Woo-jin's favorite food and more relevantly why he cares so much.
While Ga-in is initially an intriguing character precisely because we know so little about her, as time goes by we learn less and less about Ga-in to the point that her actions just come off as random and underdeveloped. Consider the fate of Ga-in and Eun-jeong's old friend Jin-hee, who is mentioned exactly once. Her fate ends up being the big revelation that clues Eun-jeong in to Ga-in's true nature, and yet we know nothing about the circumstances that brought her together with Ga-in, or for that matter why these three women were friends in the first place.
Eun-jeong, as the sympathetic lead, also suffers from being kind of dumb. At multiple points director Kim Yong-woon tries to trick the viewer into thinking that some horrible thing has happened- and yet while Eun-jeong can be counted on to freak out at random noises, she never catches on to the fact that Ga-in is kind of weird. The final setpiece is aggressively stupid as Eun-jeong manages to stumble straight to her own doom with not a moment of self-awareness.
The result of all this is an ending that's simply pointless and mean, where what little explanation we get of Ga-in's character comes from a person with no real screen time up until his very brief and perfunctory summation. While the basic genre thriller elements in "Malice" are competently done, in closing very little of significance or relevance happens in "Malice". We know so little about the alleged main characters that the catharsis in the closing scenes is quite unearned.
There are some interesting elements in "Malice", and every so often the movie even manages to be almost scary. But "Malice" is unfortunately a film primarily interested in covering the basic ground of genre thrillers without injecting any unique elements. Production material makes a point of how Ga-in suffers from something called "Ripley Syndrome", which isn't actually a medical condition, just some Korean person wrote an article about it at some point. "Malice" overall reads like that- minimal research and development because director Kim Yong-woon read an article once.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Malice""
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