“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”! - to quote Adam West. I wish I could, Adam, but I have to write about this one first.
It has been one year since Shin Hyun (Cho Seung-woo) turned himself in to the police and admitted to the killings of six women; yet a series of further murders have taken place that share Shin Hyun’s MO. As a copycat killer is on the loose Detective Kim Mi-yeon (Yeom Jung-ha), who worked on the original case is called in to investigate. She and Detective Park (Sung Ji-ru) are teamed up with new officer on the force, Kang Tae-hyun (Ji Jin-hee). In order to try and solve these crimes they must go back to the original source, Shin Hyun and hope that he can aid them in capturing this twisted murderer. However, Shin Hyun isn’t exactly forthcoming and as he hands out bizarre answers the police become more frustrated when each lead takes them further off track.
I’ll be honest. H sounded like a damn good film on paper and after seeing the likes of Tell me Something and Memories of Murder it’s easy to see that Korea can do effective thrillers; but sadly not all the time. There’s a big problem with this self touted “intelligent thriller” and that is it's simply an exceedingly dull film that rides on the back of America’s most acclaimed killer thrillers. It really requires no intelligence to watch it and figure out what is going on, because you’ll have picked your suspect within the first ten minutes. This makes H a frustrating film; it spends most of its time focused on a lead character so that you can easily have a good guess who the suspect might be, without the film telling you until the end. It’s like the old Morse dramas where everyone takes a stab at guessing but it turns out to be the least likely person. We know by now when watching films that you should always suspect the least likely person, even if you still don’t know 100% for sure. Well H is much the same in this respect. It’s quite safe to assume without really knowing; by the end the twist is so unsurprising that it feels as if you’ve just wasted valuable time in sitting it through. So for 100-minutes that leaves us with the slowest of chases, as our cops fumble through the city streets while director, Lee Jong-hyuk tries oh so hard to throw us off the scent. But I shall stop there as there are plenty of spoilers to reveal, from the film’s psychology, right up to the actual meaning of “H”.
You’ve gotta hand it to the director, he does try to make us like the film by giving these officers a little background information to go off. This would be a nice addition if it wasn’t so briskly handled. There’s so much underdevelopment and lack of information on each character’s part that we never care for any of them. Our heroes are lifeless drones; Jung-ha spends the film moping around with a cigarette in her mouth, trying to look tough and emotionless (part of the point but unimpressive all the same), while Jin-hee is just another stereotypical device up to a certain point, until the film’s final act. Seung-woo gets ample screen time and quite obviously he’s designed to be a memorable bad guy, but he won’t go down in cinema history as a knock off character. Despite their far from interesting roles the cast members do their jobs adequately, with Seung-woo remarkably resembling Andy Lau in the looks department, with his best scene coming in the form of a psychiatric examination. Naturally with these characters there’s a space that can be filled through light comedy, yet unlike Memories of Murder which surprisingly got away with that gamble H falls on its arse with it. Sung Ji-ru has that funny look which often sees him playing these kinds of roles, so it’s a given that he should be the one who falls over a lot and slaps people around the head, which isn’t to say he isn’t good at doing that but with this film it’s sorely out of place.
With little else to talk about I can just say that aesthetically H is a decent looking film. Sure it’s dark and wet, these are key elements to any thriller so there’s no surprise there. When it comes down to horror it fails to disturb or shock; severed fingers, slashed throats and open tummies make this all pretty routine, though I admit the opening sequence where two bodies are found are effectively handled. The cases in question, because of their horrific nature should then have been far better exploited later on, but due to their repetitive nature any interest in its darker side rapidly declines. Some of you may not want to see any gory details, but when the script is this poor you have to be able to indulge in something.
Through their “Asia Extreme” label, Tartan brings us H on a fairly standard disc. Those expecting meaty extras will be very disappointed this time around, though this is adequate enough at best. The menu designs are dull affairs, but I wouldn’t have expected anything better.
Presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1 H looks merely good. With much of it being primarily filmed at night the DVD shows signs of poor contrast, which is too high. The result is that these scenes lack better definition, with foreground and background exhibiting different levels, creating a murky effect at times. Edge Enhancement is also present, along with some slight compression artifacts. The final nail comes in the form of an interlaced conversion. With that said detail is generally good and holds up well amidst a fair amount of natural film grain.
We get a choice of Korean 5.1 and DTS. The film is filled with noise; even silent moments have ambience, which is particularly noticeable during the prison visits, which initially sounds like a bad hiss. From the start of the film the rear speakers are put to good use during the heavy moments of rain, where dialogue is handled well enough at the front, but is slightly subdued, much like the beginning of Seven; later on it improves and maintains consistency. The rain continues throughout much of the film and that, along with some tubular bells-ish music is carried well. The DTS packs in a little more subwoofer action, but they’re not largely different tracks; a few gun shots here and there carry a little weight but overall the atmosphere is suitably captured
There are optional English subtitles, that come in the standard bold and white font. Grammatical errors are slight, with the word “unwed” being twice typed as “unwd”.
Alternate Opening (3:39)
I actually prefer this to the bland, brown opening sequence seen in the finished film. Here we see Shin Hyun, making his way to the police station while inter-cutting between gruesome shots of his victims. We also see Kang Tae-hyun take on a criminal before Hyun dumps a bag filled with body parts on the police desk, before putting his hands up. The quality here is low grade, looking like a VHS recording. There are optional English subtitles included.
Behind the Scenes (28.00)
This has got to be one of the strangest behind the scenes features I have ever seen. It starts off by taking us to a shooting range, where the lead cast members get used to firing guns. From there we go to self defence training. Each member practises fighting, before taking Kendo lessons and learning how to scale buildings (where poor ol‘ Yeom Jung-ha breaks down in tears). None of this is even used in the film! We learn that all of this training is for a promotional campaign that is so ridiculous it’s embarrassing. We see this next as the cast take on terrorists: They descend the building via ropes before running up to the bad guys, where they punch and kick their way through in hilarious fashion before the words “Terrorists are justly quelled” are announced in front of the on looking media and passers by. After this we go behind the scenes of shooting, most of which takes place in the evening. We see a bizarre stunt, featuring a Korean stunt man in a dress diving from a ladder onto a car, where clearly he hurts himself; why not just use a dummy? We then see some further night shots that take place in the rain, which all looks very uncomfortable. Next are some scenes featuring dialogue, which mostly consists of lines being fumbled. The last 10-minutes focus on footage that was deleted from the film. First up is a scene with Ji Jin-hee as he beats up a criminal in the rain, which looks exhausting - this can be seen in brief during the alternate opening. Finally is Yeom Jung-ha filming a sparring scene. Donned in heavy blue gloves she is put through her own kind of hell as she punches and kicks her way around the ring. She once again complains until her hands swell up and she gets out of the ring in tears, where she’s treated before being told that there’s no ice in the building! If anything I feel sorry for her having gone through all of that for absolutely nothing. Optional English subtitles are included here.
Theatrical Trailer (1:57)
A good trailer indeed that will make most people want to check out the film I’d wager.
H has the makings of a decent thriller, but it wastes its opportunities, or rather it was simply poorly designed in the first place. Those who dig their grisly thrillers would be advised to look elsewhere; while this offers a few effective shots there is very little else of interest.