Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Fantasia ’16: The Exclusive, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo

If you think journalists are interested in truth, you probably also still believe lawyers are only interested in justice. Let Heo Moo-hyeok dispel any lingering misconceptions you might have for the former. When he gets a life-and-death serial killer story wrong, he just keeps digging a deeper hole for himself in Roh Deok’s The Exclusive: Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (trailer here), which screened during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Heo has just been pushed out from his hack journalist job at a low-rated television network and pretty much blacklisted everywhere else in town. Drunk and despondent, he plays his last card, following-up with the tipster who called in with a supposed lead as to the whereabouts of a serial killer stalking Seoul. In the dark of night, in his drunken stupor, the supposed lair looks frighteningly sinister. By break of day, he is back in his network’s good graces, working on his exclusive report. Unfortunately, when he returns to the scene, Heo realizes the supposed chamber of horrors is actually an actor’s workshop.

Obviously, his story is bogus, but it takes on a life of its own nonetheless. Every time Heo attempts some damage control, it backfires spectacularly. On the plus side, he career is on the upswing and he just might have an outside chance of patching things up with his mega-preggers estranged wife Soo-jin. However, his sudden notoriety also puts him squarely on the real serial killer’s radar.

For the most part, Exclusive is an insidiously clever one-darned-thing-after-another thriller, but it never has the massive third act crescendo we expect (like Confession of Murder or Broken). Still, it is bizarrely engrossing to watch the wildly problematic Heo make a hash of everything.

It will also leave viewers deeply disillusioned with respects to the state of journalism, thanks to some wonderfully arch supporting turns. Kim Eui-sung (the jerkheel businessman in Train to Busan) was apparently born to play sleazebag supporting characters and he chews the scenery with glee as the ethically challenged executive editor. However, the commanding Lee Mi-sook almost makes tabloid journalism look respectable as the network director. When she is on-screen, she takes the film to another level. Bae Sung-woo is also as reliable as ever playing CYA-ing Squad Chief Oh. They help a lot, given Cho Jung-seok’s clammy standoffishness as Heo.

Exclusive is a solid Korean thriller that earns extra bonus points for achievements in cynicism. It does not quite reach the over-the-top heights of some of the best in genre, but it is definitely a satisfying viewing experience. Recommended as an antidote to Spotlight and other nauseatingly self-important journalism movies, The Exclusive: Beat the Devil’s Tattoo had its Canadian premiere at this year’s Fantasia.