Case Number 14256


Genius Products // 2007 // 115 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // August 12th, 2008

The Charge

The Operation is Over. The Nightmare Has Just Begun.

Opening Statement

Have you ever been in the dentist's chair and suddenly realized that the anesthetic hadn't worked? You get that one shooting pain, and it's all you can do to keep from leaping out of the chair and shoving a few instruments up every available orifice. That's just a tooth.

Now imagine it's something a bit more involved -- open heart surgery. They're going to cut open your chest and use a bone saw to cut through your sternum. You're lying on the table when you realize that something has gone horribly wrong. The drug that was supposed to knock you out hasn't worked. Even worse, you have been paralyzed by a muscle relaxant, so you can't tell anyone that you're not unconscious.

You're wide awake.

Doctor: "Scalpel."

Genius Products brings us Wide Awake, a Korean import, a suspense-thriller that uses such a terrifying scenario as a starting point.

Facts of the Case

Sangnosku Hospital, 1982. A young boy experiences unimaginable horror when an anesthesia mistake leaves him conscious but paralyzed during his open heart surgery. He feels everything -- the scalpel cutting his skin, the bone saw opening his sternum, the electrocautery burning his flesh -- sure, we can take a break. Go, breathe into a paper bag, take a few dozen Xanax. Better now? OK. I'm right there with you, btw -- I spent the scene murmuring the Dune fear litany under my breath. After the surgery, the doctors dismiss the boy's claims as post-surgery hallucination, even though the boy can tell them what they said during the surgery.

Twenty-five years later. Several prominent physicians have died under mysterious circumstances. A young doctor, Jae-U Ryu (Kyu-Man Lee), is getting threatening phone calls from the husband of a patient whose wife died during surgery. At the same time, a boyhood friend, Uk-Hwan Gang (Jun-Sang Yoo), appears unexpectedly. Shortly thereafter, Jae-U's wife becomes a victim of someone's cruel revenge scheme, and now it's up to Jae-U to identify the killer before he becomes the next victim.

The Evidence

I'll start with a disclaimer: The film is in Korean, with English subtitles, but without dubbing. In addition, the subtitles appear to have been done by someone without a complete grasp of English idiom. As a result, it is entirely possible that I completely misinterpreted what was going on here. In that case, if someone associated with the picture will provide an explanation, I will be happy to reevaluate the movie.

The script, by Hyeon-jin Lee and Kyu-man Lee (who also directed), has some nice moments and some clever plotting. For example, when the mysterious friend appears out of the blue, the initial tendency is to suspect him; however, in this case, when he showers, we see clearly he does not have a scar down his chest -- ergo, he can't be the killer. That does not mean, however, that he doesn't have his own secrets and agendas.

The problem with most thrillers is that, sooner or later, they get too clever for their own good and add one more twist. Here, though, we get three or four twists too many. The bottom line, though, is that despite a number of good ideas, there is too much going on in this movie. So much time is spent simply introducing the characters that the plot drifts into the background. For instance, Uk-Hwan enters an anesthesiologist's office to discover a psychiatrist, Dr. Chi-O, rifling through the files. When pressed, Chi-O blurts -- "It's him! He's the killer!" But Chi-O doesn't know what Uk-Hwan is doing there, so the accusation comes out of the blue -- an artificial means of moving the story along. To be fair, there are a number of wonderful scenes, from quiet intimate moments to moments of horrific revelation, but they never quite coalesce into a single narrative. When the pieces finally fall into place, the audience (a non-Korean speaking one, at any rate) doesn't have sufficient goodwill to suspend belief to accept the final resolution.

At times, people's behavior and reaction are simply baffling. In a critical scene, a doctor is performing emergency surgery and removes a dessert plate-sized hunk of plastic from the patient's stomach. I find it hard to believe that such a discovery would not lead to some kind of "WTF!?" comment, but the team simply continues with the procedure. Even more perplexing is the police's initial contention that the presence of the plastic is insufficient cause to suspect foul play -- because plastic always spontaneously springs into existence inside people.

"Memory Returned," the making-of featurette -- blessedly subtitled -- is a curious beast. About half of the
40 minutes is interviews with the director and the principle cast members. The rest is literally behind-the-scenes footage -- shots of rehearsals, etc, with no commentary whatsoever. It's kind of interesting, I'll admit, but the overall effect is that the thing was hastily slapped together. The other special features don't add much additional information, and a lot of footage is recycled from the long featurette.

A word about the subtitles -- they are not very clear, particularly since in many cases the subtitles run from the picture into the black bar underneath. You have to focus so much on the subtitles that it's hard to follow the actions they accompany.

Video is unremarkable. The audio track is clear and does justice to the low-key, but wonderfully atmospheric score.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Overall, the acting is good; with better subtitles or an English track, it could have overcome more of the film's problems.

We've seen villains do some truly horrific things over the years -- Hannibal Lecter eviscerating a police officer, John Doe having the head of Detective Mills' wife delivered to him, etc. I don't think any screen villain has ever perpetrated as brutal, as horrifying a crime as the villain here. I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not.

Closing Statement

The real criminal here is Genius Products, who didn't do much to give this release a chance. With bad subtitles and no English-dubbed track, they just didn't do enough to make the film viable in an English-speaking market -- which is odd, given that they paid for a cardboard sleeve for the case. Providing these extra elements would not break the budget.

The Verdict

Guilty. The court will suspend the sentence of anyone will give him some Tylenol for the headache he got trying to piece the plot together.

Review content copyright © 2008 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 78
Audio: 82
Extras: 60
Acting: 80
Story: 70
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile
Studio: Genius Products
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Korean)

* English

Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Deleted Scenes
* Making of Featurette
* Cast Interviews
* Production Design Featurette
* Anaesthesia Awareness Featurette

* IMDb