LKFF 2019 - Idol Review
It’s an understatement to say that South Korean Crime Thrillers can be extremely bleak. Films like Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy or Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser have brilliantly proved it in the past and it’s not about to stop, as Bong Joon-ho’s outstanding Parasite masterfully demonstrated this year. For its second feature film, Idol, after 2013 harrowing Drama Han Gong-ju, Lee Su-jin pursues in this vein with an audacious story mixing politics, fatherhood and revenge.
Bu-nam has been killed in a hit-and-run accident. "Hiding details now could have consequences later," insists rising politician Koo Myung-hui (Han Suk-kyu, The President's Last Bang), making his guilty son confess to the police - but with the full extent of the crime becoming clearer, decent Myung-hui sinks ever lower in covering up a situation that threatens his political ambitions. As he and Yoo Joong-sik (Sul Kyung-gu, Oasis) circle each other in search of Bu-nam's missing bride Ryun-hwa (Chun Woo-hee, The Wailing), everyone's buried secrets lead to a violent collision of class and politics from which nobody emerges looking pretty.
The tone of the film is given right away by Lee Su-jin’s opening shots of a rainy nocturnal cityscape whilst a voiceover sees a father describing describes masturbating his mentally challenged son. Idol, very much like its characters who can’t decide where to stand, constantly remains at the border of the social drama and the crime thriller. This is a rather common trait of South Korean thriller, which makes it so exceptional, but in this case, the mix never really works. Lee Su-jin takes his time to expose his main characters’ internal emotional turmoil but this risky pace never really manages to provide anything else than ennui. Furthermore, the story, focusing on a rising politician and a poor worker, propitious to a conventional, yet so important in South Korean films, opposition between the powerful and the weak does not really turn out to be subtle enough to make a lasting impression on the audience.
It’s a real shame as, on the other hand, one of the strengths of Lee Su-jin’s screenplay is a pitch perfect use of ellipsis. It is even more unfortunate that this inspired work ends up being wasted by the excessive duration of the film drowning the efforts of the director in a sea of overextended scenes.
Idol also benefits from an impressive cinematography by Son Won-ho (The Witness) and an amazing cast which sees two of the best South Korean actors, the too rare Han Suk-kyu and the feverish Sul Kyung-gu, at the top of their game. Lee Su-jin also gives his Han Gong-ju actress, Chun Woo-hee, the opportunity to delivers once again an excellent performance. She is particularly intriguing and disturbing in the role of a young Chinese woman trying to save her life, and her character is developed well enough to arouse both curiosity and sympathy.
There is no doubt that Idol is a decent South Korean Crime Thriller. Despite its somewhat painful unfolding and incomprehensible 144min duration, unfortunately symptomatic of recent cinema, its ambition and some interesting elements of its story make it a worthwhile viewing experience. Furthermore, Lee Su-jin confirms enough real directing talent to make his third directorial effort worth waiting for.