Wednesday, July 03, 2013

NYAFF ’13: Confession of Murder

It is a capricious perversity of the legal system a Victorian novelist would admire.  After the statute of limitations expires for his crimes, a serial killer comes forward—ostensibly to repent.  However, the cop in charge of the investigation doubts both his sincerity and his veracity in Jung Byoung-gil’s Confession of Murder (trailer here), which screens today during the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.

Det. Choi Hyung-goo still bears the scar from his close encounter with a masked serial killer.  The case became personal for him—real personal.  When Lee Doo-suk steps forward claiming to be the serial killer he is not impressed.  Neither are the families of his victims.  In marked contrast, the public eats up his phony contrition act, turning Lee into a media phenomenon. Unfortunately, there is little Choi can do, but the families are not so passive.

Directed by Jung, who is best known to NYAFF patrons for Action Boys, his documentary about Korean stuntmen, Confession has its share of big, adrenaline charged chases and fight scenes.  However, it is not the stunt work bacchanal one might expect.  Instead, Confession plumbs some murky psychological depths.  Rather than an action thrill ride, it compares more closely to Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil.

Jung maintains the stark tension throughout the film, but he unleashes a barrage of revelations in the third act.  Indeed, viewers might kick themselves for not guessing a few, but Confession serves as an object lesson in how not to telegraph your big twists by keeping everyone distracting with breakneck pacing.  This is a really well constructed film, but it is not for those with delicate sensibilities. Yes, there is a fair amount of physical conflict, but the emotional violence is far more unsettling.

Jung Jae-young is all kinds of hardnosed as Det. Choi, yet he also perfectly conveys the damaged cop’s tragic nature.  Television star Park Si-hoo is suitably cold and creepy as the serial killer-teen idol.  Their scenes together have serious zing, but they are also backed-up by a strong supporting cast that really helps sell the twists and turns.

Presumably most viewers will not be experts in South Korean criminal law, so it is easy to suspend disbelief over its initial MacGuffin. While in America, the statute of limitations never expires for murder, Confessions is such a nifty, high concept thriller, it seems ripe for a Hollywood remake nonetheless. (Perhaps a liberal judge in the Dirty Harry tradition could issue a preemptive ruling granting the killer impunity.)  Regardless, Confession of Murder is a muscular thriller that ventures into some unusually dark places.  Very highly recommended, it screens this afternoon (7/3) at the Walter Reade Theater, as part of the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.