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[MOVIE REVIEW] 'Our Town' maps out a new track in thriller

2007/11/21 | 337 views | Permalink | Source

When a serial killer is on the loose in a small town, a tempting option for another potential killer is committing a copycat murder. "Our Town" (Uri dongnae), the debut feature by director Jeong Gil-yeong, is a thriller that spins a grim and brooding tale out of a confrontation between a serial killer and a copycat killer.

The movie starts with a scene where a twentysomething girl is found dead at an elementary school playground. With her neck tied to a horizontal bar, she seems to have suffered severe stab wounds before or after a brutal murder.

It turns out that the murder is the latest in a string of similar cases involving the same town in Seoul. All the victims are women, ranging from a child to a housewife in her 30s, and all the townspeople become afraid to go out, while the police are faced with embarrassing bad publicity.

Jae-shin (Lee Sun-kyun), a detective who leads an investigation into the serial killer case, struggles hard to find clues, with his boss getting anxious about the manhunt getting nowhere.

But Jae-shin has a personal channel to vent his frustration: his childhood buddy Gyeong-ju (Oh Man-seok), a self-styled writer who wants to hit it big with a realistic detective novel. But publishers do not want his novel, so Gyeong-ju cannot make any money to pay the rent.

The plot accelerates when Gyeong-ju gets engaged in a bitter fight with his landlord and ends up killing her in his own room. At first, he does not see anything and does not have any idea about what he has to do. Soon he realizes that his town has a serial killer, murdering only women, and he believes he might get away with his accidental murder.

Following the details of previous murder cases, Gyeong-ju puts the dead body in a small town park, in the middle of the night. The police and the media believe the case also belongs to the notorious serial killer, but Hyo-e (Ryu Deok-hwan), who runs a small stationery shop, knows something really interesting has happened. Hyo-e knows it is a copycat crime because he is the real killer.

The virtue of the film is that director Jeong starts off with all the key plot elements exposed and fully explained. The two killers are well aware of the existence of their counterparts, and the film's camera tracks down what they are up to at every key moment. This is an innovative approach. Unlike other thrillers that tend to hide key information until the last moment, "Our Town" offers what is at stake up front, and challenges the audiences to follow the plot and what is really going on for themselves.

Also notable are the fine performances of Oh Man-seok, who has built fame as a leading television actor following his success on the musical stage, and Ryu Deok-hwan, a teenage celebrity actor who showed off his talent in "Like A Virgin". In this film, Oh plays a dark character who has long been sidelined by society. He used to be lonely; even now, his life is filled with disappointing turns and poverty. Oh's realistic portrayal of the character also comes from what is called "animalistic instinct". When the character is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, sparked by sheer anger, Oh seems to understand how to control his emotions in order to amplify the effect.

Meanwhile, Ryoo lends authenticity to the serial killer's psychopathic state by keeping a calm and cool posture throughout the film. The serial killer has a complex web of emotions inside, including tactfulness, and a merciless killing instinct, and Ryoo's innocent appearance adds to the perplexing sentiment when the character's hidden violence is exposed toward the end of the film. In particular, Hyo-e's emotion-packed murder of his old acquaintance is realistic enough to pump up the adrenaline of the audience, thanks to Ryu's amazing ability to infuse the character with vitality.

The film's heavy reliance on violent murder scenes may not appeal to mainstream audiences who want a happy ending in every drama, but those who want a serious thriller with a decent script are likely to find some fine moments in "Our Town", which will be released nationwide on Nov. 29.

By Yang Sung-jin

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