After the mutilated body of a missing girl is discovered in tidelands, Korea is shaken. Han-soo (Lee Sung-min, The Spy Gone North) and Min-tae (Yoo Jae- myung, Stranger) – who have been rivals for years – are put in charge of finding the culprit. The case seems simple with a suspect already in custody, but things take a turn when Han-soo meets an informant (Jeon Hye-Jin, The Merciless) who insists that she knows who the real murderer is. As cover-ups and secret deals ensue, tensions rise between the two detectives and the mounting pressure comes to a head.
Behind this disarmingly generic title hides a remake of Oliver Marchal’s 2004 French crime drama 36, by director Jung-Ho Lee (Broken). On paper, transposing a (very) French police drama to South Korea, whilst adding the distinctive flavour of its cinema and drawing on its bureaucratic competitiveness, was an enticing idea. In practice, The Beast is far from being a convincing remake, and an even less convincing South Korean thriller.
Let’s be clear from the get-go: this film doesn’t compare to its French counterpart. Sure enough, there are some very interesting ideas in Jung-Ho Lee’s version, but they are drowned in many of the defects of recent cinema.
Even if the overall storyline and plot elements are similar to a certain extent, the original gangster investigation has been replaced by a serial killer/drug investigation in the remake. What 36 greatly benefitted from was the real life experience of second time director Marchal and his screenwriter Franck Mancuso who are both veteran ex-policemen. Furthermore, despite retaining some of these plot elements, The Beast rarely ventures into personal territory and remains a serial killer film complete with the wrongly accused man trope, making it invariably more superficial.
As a result, what was an operatic police drama, in which fatality was driving the characters’ actions, now becomes a fairly mundane action murder mystery. Devoid of the key dramatic elements which gave palatable weight to 36, such as the police brigade being presented like a family and multiplying the impact of certain characters’ death.
Whilst the South Korean remake attempts to venture in a different direction to avoid being just a basic copy/paste of the original, it doesn’t manage to achieve its goal and loses momentum due to its unnecessary 131mins time; symptomatic of a lot of recent cinema. Given its length, the film takes its time to establish its characters but paradoxically their ordeal doesn’t manage to reach the level of the original. Where Gérard Depardieu (Cyrano de Bergerac)’s character was both despicable yet touching in 36, creating an interesting conflict for the audience, Jae-myung Yoo’s Min Tae – moreover an excellent actor – remains too unruffled, failing to create an interesting counterpart to Sung-min Lee’s borderline Han Soo.
The Beast seems to bite off more than it can chew by overdeveloping the two main parallel stories. The second half of the film is the obvious victim of this harmful ambition to maintain suspense by extending the film’s length to the detriment of characters and the audience’s empathy for them, something that 36 did very efficiently, despite some overdramatic elements.
It is even more disappointing when looking at the talented cast and crew that Jung-Ho Lee assembled. The director resisted the urge to replace the older French actors with young Korean actors and the leads are particularly good. Furthermore, the film benefits from suitably noirish cinematography courtesy of Joo Sung-Rim (The Age of Innocence) which gives the city of Incheon a distinctive atmosphere, very different from the very Parisian atmosphere 36 was drenched in, and an immersive score by Mowg (I Saw the Devil).
Not knowing that it is a remake (of 36) will most certainly make the film more appreciated to part of the audience. For those who have seen and appreciated the original, The Beast might not be of great interest except for Korean cinema lovers.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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