[HanCinema's Film Review] "Tattoo"
By William Schwartz | Published on
As the opening sequence demonstrates, there is a kind of medical factor to tattoo art that's rather fascinating. They both involve needles, obviously, but what exactly is that weird ink that creates tattoo art anyway? Soo-na (played by Yoon Joo-hee) is a doctor turned tattooist who utilizes their mysterious properties- for murder. That sounds like a good premise for a movie doesn't it? Well, unfortunately the actual main serial killer character of "Tattoo" is Ji-soon (played by Song Il-gook). He's just a generic übermensch serial killer.
I really hate that trope. Anyone who's read my reviews before knows this, but "Tattoo" is a very good case study in why the übermensch serial killer is a bad trope- it's boring. If you've seen one übermensch serial killer, you've seen them all. The only difference is in tone. And in this case the very important tonal distinction director Lee Seo brings to the genre is that we get to see graphic torture rape murder. Well isn't that just dandy.
But what makes "Tattoo" especially frustrating is the sheer waste of potential. The set-up clearly implies that Soo-na's much more interesting tattoo-based murder is going to be the main subject, then Ji-soon shows up and takes over the entire plot for no good reason. The whole bit about the tattoos is just a random afterthought. Heck, technically speaking the main character isn't either serial killer at all but rather detective Cheon-gi (played by Kwon Hyun-sang). The most interesting thing about him is his ballerina cousin.
As a procedural the failings of "Tattoo" are even more glaring. For Cheon-gi to go over police procedure is incomprehensible considering that Ji-soon, as is usual for the übermensch serial killer, doesn't seem to have to deal with logistics. Getting away with murder in the middle of nowhere kind of makes sense- but how exactly does he manage to bumble through large, unfamiliar, actively used buildings without anyone noticing all that blood?
Another irritating factor is that the movie is inconsistent about this. Sometimes a nearby prop is needed to commit murder. Other times a pointy object manages to materialize out of thin air. Also Ji-soon's love of erotic asphyxiation is an important plot point- to the point that the story would be completely incapable of progressing at all if he didn't insist on attempting erotic asphyxiation every time he has sex.
And you know, that's the basic problem here. A lack of creativity. There are ways to kill a person during sex that don't involve chokeholds or weird out-of-focus torture instruments. Like, do you have any idea how many sexual positions there are? A lot! There are all sorts of potential interesting angles that "Tattoo" could go for and it just never does anything with them. The movie is a failure as story and it's a failure as spectacle. I have no idea why anyone would want to watch it. I have no idea why a star of Song Il-gook's calibre would want to make it either. I mean come on man you want the triplets to see this garbage when they grow up?
This review was written by William Schwartz as a part of HanCinema's BiFan (Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival) coverage.
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 email@example.com. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.