Judge Joel Pearce takes a huge swig of Cop Thriller Frappe and then dives into this film.
Se7en meets Silence of the Lambs.
Perhaps a better tagline would have been: "elements stolen from Se7en and Silence of the Lambs." H is a derivative thriller that contains everything needed to be great, but it never comes into its own to knock audiences off their feet.
Facts of the Case
Murder one: A woman and her just-born infant are found dead in a garbage dump. Cold as ice detective Mi-yun Kim (Jung-ah Yum, A Tale of Two Sisters) is brought in to investigate, with her new hotshot partner Tae-hyun Kang (Jin-hee Ji) closely in tow.
Murder two: A pregnant teenager is found murdered on a bus. This second killing sparks detective Kim's memories, who realizes these murders are a direct copy of a young serial killer named Shin Hyun (Seung-woo Cho, Low Life). He is in prison, but the new killer is obviously intimately acquainted with his work. Since detective Kim has past connections to Shin Hyun, detective Kang goes in to interrogate him, and the chase is on.
Four more murders can be expected, each matching up with the ones Shin Hyun is on death row for. But each time they get closer to the truth, they discover that the situation is more complicated than they realized.
It's difficult to write a review for a film that flaunts its influences as much as H does. Let's take a look at a few:
• A serial killer is interviewed in hopes of tracking down a new
killer (Silence of the Lambs)
Judged on its creativity, H comes out severely lacking. When a film has this many clear influences, it has to live up to the quality of those influences. Otherwise, we may as well just go back and watch Silence of the Lambs again. Of course, not everyone in the world has seen the films that H has borrowed from. This is probably even truer in Asia. After all, how many of you have watched Tell Me Something and Memories of Murder? They are arguably Korea's classic serial killer movies, and H owes both of them just as much gratitude.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So, I want to judge H on its own merits. After all, even the ideas it borrowed from other films have been significantly changed.
The detective team works well, and the script doesn't put Kank and Kim into a relationship, which shows more restraint than Hollywood would have demonstrated. Kang is understandably frustrated with the process that they have to go through. Catching a serial killer takes patience, and he doesn't want to sit around until another murder takes place. The dearth of leads in the case is an intolerable truth, something he is unable to deal with. That frustration makes him rash. Kim has the opposite problem. She lost her fiancé when he got too emotionally caught up in Shun Hyun's first case, and she doesn't want to let herself fall into the same trap. She keeps the whole investigation at a distance, willing to sacrifice the victims in order to keep cool and catch the killer in the end. She is almost able to stay far enough back, but it's clear that she is still driven to succeed. She knows that she will never be able to completely separate herself from a case this intense. Detective Park is not only the much-needed comedic relief, but he also stands in as the typical cop: he is no longer idealistic enough to have Kang's enthusiasm while too sardonic to maintain Kim's stoicism.
The twist at the end is ridiculous, and several scenes had me guessing something close. Fortunately, there are enough red herrings, wild goose chases, and police operations to keep the film charging forward and viewers wondering what will come next. Although I groaned when I realized where the film was headed, I also have to admit that the ending works well on a metaphoric level. Homicide detectives live under constant pressure and feelings of guilt. They have to play by the rules, running through the motions as the killers nimbly stay several steps ahead. For these detectives, the inability to catch up and protect the public is enough to make them feel guilty: their failure to catch the bad guy makes them feel responsible for the deaths.
More than anything else, H nails the tone. The film opens with several graphic murder investigations, and the suspense is allowed to build slowly instead of using the short range jump scenes that many thrillers have been using the past few years. The police procedure is at least plausible, and the chase sequences are well filmed. Great scenes with the tactical squad are a nice change from films where detectives go bursting into suspects' homes alone. The film is gruesome at times, made worse because the murders involve pregnant women and unborn children. It never gets too carried away, though, and I doubt these sequences alone would be enough to satisfy true gorehounds. The music, primarily a piano score, is unconventional but matches the steady, patient pace of the movie.
The transfer on the disc effectively captures the feel of the film. The video transfer varies in quality. Some scenes, especially the brighter scenes, look fantastic. The detail level is high, and there are no visible print or transfer flaws. In the darker scenes (which is much of the film), there is quite a bit of grain in the shadows. This is especially distracting in the prison sequences, but shows up elsewhere. The sound transfer is excellent, especially the DTS track. The music and ambient sounds come from all directions, greatly adding to the overall atmosphere. In some quiet scenes, there is a noticeable hiss, particularly when there are no other sounds. This is less prevalent in the DTS track, but it can be heard in each of the tracks.
Though H isn't the most packed with extras of the Tartan Asia Extreme label, there is a lot to explore after the film. An alternate opening has a montage that introduces the characters and shows Shin Hyun's confession. It's far less jarring than the opening in the dump, so I think it was a wise choice. The production featurette is bizarre. It begins with the physical training that the main characters had to go through, including police training for things they never have to do in the film. Did they really need to do fencing? Jung-ah Yum doesn't seem to think so…It then goes on to show them performing that training in front of a live audience as a promotional stunt. None of this has anything to do with the film. Finally, about halfway through, it turns into a typical featurette. Hidden in various menus are a few Easter eggs, with a strange Korean trailer for H and more footage that didn't make the final cut.
Ultimately, H is worth checking out. It does nothing new, and would have been far greater had it felt more creative, but it's still a fine example of the serial killer thriller genre. It has a creepy feel, good performances, and lots of grisly moments. A rental should be sufficient for all but the most avid thriller fans. Tartan Films continues to consistently impress with their great treatment of Asian movies.
Everyone involved with H is free to go. The filmmakers are warned, however, that I will not be as generous if they bring such derivative material in front of my courtroom again.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Alternate Opening
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