Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Korean Outbreak: Deranged

For a slacker-copper, the good news is his latest dodgy stock recommendation appears to be panning out.  The bad news is pretty much everything else.  A pandemic is sweeping Korea and the pharmaceutical company he was tipped to may be somehow involved in Park Jung-woo’s Deranged (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select cities.

Thanks Jae-pil’s dubious stock picks, his beleagured brother Jae-hyeok found himself deep in debt, with a wife and two children to support.  Once a promising medical researcher, he now kowtows to doctors on behalf of Joa Pharm, an industry bottom-feeder.  Things are bad for the brothers and they will quickly get worse when Jae-pil investigates one of the first victims of a mutated parasite.  At first, it stimulates the appetite, but hosts never gain weight.  They become increasingly thirsty, eventually feeling compelled to submerse themselves in water, at which point the parasites burst out Alien-style, leaving a desiccated husk behind.  It is not a pleasant way to go, but pandemics never are.

As the scope of the epidemic becomes apparent, Jae-hyoek’s family starts showing symptoms of contamination.  Again, there is some good news.  A consumer drug evidently fights off the parasitic agents.  It is even one of his company’s products, but they recently discontinued production due to low demand.

As Jae-hyeok desperately scours the black market for the suspiciously scarce pills, Jae-pil peels away layers of the nasty corporate conspiracy.  Indeed, Deranged suffers from a rather pronounced case of Big Pharma-derangement syndrome.  Yet, in a way, it serves as a reminder that the pharmaceutical industry produces products that save lives, whereas politicians do not produce anything at all of lasting value.

Nevertheless, Deranged is an awfully darn scary depiction of the mob mentality in full force.  It is not pretty to witness.  In fact, it takes on classically tragic proportions when each time Jae-hyeok tries to act decent and compassionately, the irrational rabble only further stymies his efforts to save his wife and children.

As the frantic Jae-hyeok, Kim Myung-min is convincingly guilt-ridden and distraught.  Yet, it is former pop idol Kim Dong-wan who really commands the screen as the slightly roguish Jae-pil.  Unfortunately, former Miss Korea and current vegan cooking show host Honey Lee (a.k.a. Lee Ha-nui) does not get to do much more than look concerned as Yun-joo, Jae-hyeok’s former colleague and Jae-pil’s frustrated lover.  However, Lee Hyeong-cheol totally perfects evil smugness as Joa CEO Jason Lee.

Slickly shot by cinematographer Ki Se-hoon, Deranged shrewdly avoids the gruesome in favor of the more horrifically human.  Despite the not so occasional soap-boxing, it is a rather tight, character-driven outbreak thriller.  Recommended for those who can easily overlook its anti-corporate bias, Deranged opens this Friday (7/27) at the CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles, the AMC Cupertino in the Bay Area, and the AMC in Ridgefield Park, NJ, sort of near New York.