South Korea has produced several entertaining genre bending films in recent years and Confession of Murder is one of them. As with most films that frequently mix tones, it is easy to overlook just how much craft goes into making the film work. The number of tonal shifts that Confession of Murder will no doubt infuriate a few people. Some of the shifts are so outlandish that it is a wonder that the film holds together as well as it does. The key to Confession of Murder’s success lies squarely on the shoulders of director Jeong Byeong-Gil’s. As far as feature length debuts go, Jeong crafts an engrossing film full of twists and turns that gleefully embrace all of its eccentricities.
Confession of Murder revolves around an intriguing, and rather original, premise. When the film opens, Lt. Choi Hyeong-goo (Jeong Jae-yeong) is in hot pursuit of a serial killer who has taken the lives of ten victims. Despite putting up a vigorous fight, a wounded Lt. Choi can only watch helplessly as the killer vanishes into the night. 15 years later, when the statute of limitations for being arrested has run its course, a handsome man named Lee Doo-seok (Park Si-hoo) publishes a book confessing to the crimes. The news sends shock waves through the media as the book, from the allegedly reformed Lee Doo-seok, contains details that only the real killer would know. Infuriated by Lee’s arrogance, and the fact that he has become a media sensation from the crimes, Lt. Choi is determined to get his revenge at all costs.
The concept of a killer becoming a beloved star in the media is ripe for thought-provoking discussion. Jeong uses it to make pointed and scathing commentaries on society’s obsession with celebrity culture. Both Lee’s groupies, and the television producers hoping to capitalize on his sudden fame, seem to care more about his good looks rather than the crimes he has committed. Even scenes in which Lee seeks forgiveness from the families of his victims play out in a circus like atmosphere. While the satire of media culture works well with the psychological thriller aspects of the film, more on that in a minute, at times it feels at odds with the balls to the wall action in the film.
Thrilling, and at times humorous, the action in Confession of Murder is stunningly well orchestrated. These are also the moments when the tonal shifts will be the most jarring for some viewers. The opening chase sequences feels gritty and daring as Jeong incorporates Paul Greengrass-like handheld camera footage as he follows characters jumping through windows, fighting in tight spaces etc. However, the action takes a more slapstick tone in the sensational highway chase scene that features characters accidentally getting stabbed one minute and fighting on top of moving cars the next. The intriguing thing about the action sequences and stark tonal shifts is that Jeong manages to pull off each new tone brilliantly. It is just his transitions from one tone to the next that needed some smoothing out.
Jeong could have achieved this more effectively had he narrowed down his focus. He simply attempts to juggle too many styles at once. As a result the comedic aspects of the film do not flow well with the romantic and tender moments. Where Jeong is at his strongest is when tackling the action and psychological cat and mouse game that Lt. Choi plays. This is especially noticeable in the latter half of the film when Jeong Byeong-Gil ties all the various plot strings together.
Again, a lot of credit needs to go to Jeong Byeong-Gil for managing to achieve what he does with this film. He is clearly a talented and extremely versatile director, who has a bright future ahead of him. As outlandish and tonally jarring as sections of Confession of Murder might be, there is no denying that it is one wildly entertaining ride. It is a film that defies the odds and actually keeps you hooked through every single twist and turn.
Sat Nov 9, 9:45 PM, The Royal