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4th Period Mystery - Movie Poster
Original Title:
4-kyosi Chooriyeongyeok

South Korea 2009


Lee Sang-yong

Yoo Seung-ho
Kang So-ra
Jo Sang-geun
Jeon Joon-hong
Jeong Seok-yong
Park Cheol-min
Kim Dong-beom
Lee Yeong-jin
Lee Chan-ho
Min Kyeong-jin

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4th Period Mystery

aka Detectives in 40 Minutes

Story: Han Jeong-hoon (Yoo Seung-ho) is very popular with the girls but his other schoolfellows also like him. Only Tae-gyu (Jo Sang-geun) and him don't get along well, so that the two eventually have an argument. This is why things don't look too well when Jeong-hoon soon thereafter finds Tae-gyu dead and covered in blood in their classroom. The boy is totally shocked and doesn't know what to do. Luckily, that's when Da-jeong aka "Curtain" (Kang So-ra) enters the classroom. The shy girl, who normally prefers to hide behind her hair and likes to read detective stories, knows exactly what to do and along with Jeong-hoon wants to find the real culprit before the end of the 4th period, as at the moment everything hints at the boy being the murderer. The investigation is making fast progress and this even though the school is being under inspection at the moment, which means that the two have to be careful not to be seen on the corridors. A suspect is found soon, but as time goes by more and more evidence turns up that shifts the case into a new perspective.

Review: A movie about a bunch of teenagers who want to clear up a murder case at their school? Sounds like one of those Saturday afternoon films. But "4th Period Mystery" proves that Korea can be quite inventive here, too, as the movie is an interesting mixture of a thriller and a high school drama, whereas latter is only the case to a small degree. However, you can't dispute that the film is actually somewhat standing out from the crowd mostly because of its atmosphere that can be tense and captivating at times and at others is a little bit more lighthearted and humorous than what we might have expected. This mix pays off only partly and the movie has to struggle with some inelaborate characters, but especially the tight running time of the film which doesn't even reach the 90 minutes mark is one reason why we are well entertained until the very end. A rise of tension during the story's progress is only given to a small degree, but when some more adrenaline-loaden moments kick in they work out pretty well. "4th Period Mystery" is no big movie but it's entertaining, nonetheless.

4th Period Mystery - Film Screenshot 11

Director Lee Sang-yong has some serious problems concerning the drawing of his characters in his debut work, though. The shy girl that hides behind her hair is a picture which seems a bit too chlichéloaden to be convincing, her transformation looks too forced in the direction of "ugly duckling => beautiful swan", which gets underlined by the superfluous ending, and moreover Jeong-hoon played by (former child) actor Yoo Seung-ho ("The Way Home", "Heart is...") can never convince as the strong number 1 at the school which he reputedly is. Still, this doesn't mean that the two characters aren't likeable in the end. As the film progresses we start to root for them, but they without a doubt lack depth, which truely is a pity. The teacher staff can deliver more in that respect. Two more or less familiar faces are standing out more than the rest, namely Jeong Seok-yong and Park Cheol-min, who could both be seen in the drama series "Beethoven Virus". Together with the other teachers they enrich the movie in general, but they still can't cover the deficits.

4th Period Mystery - Film Screenshot 12

It is even the more strange that the characters aren't perfectly fleshed out when you consider that the film uses the first third of its running time to introduce them. Everyone seems to be hiding something, especially the teachers are acting strange. On the other hand this might just be because teachers in most cases are simply... strange! "4th Mystery Period" tries to give us the runaround after the two pupils have been put before the murder victim, and therefore it shouldn't come as a surprise that the culprit seems to be found rather easily, giving the movie the chance to present the viewer with one or two twists. Thankfully, there are some clues scattered throughout the movie with which the observant viewer won't have any problems drawing the right conclusion right away, which is why some of the clarification, most of the time in shape of flashbacks, seems rather unnecessary. Also frustrating is that we don't know anything about the actual motiv of the culprit until the very end, leading to the premise that our guessing about who the real culprit is will lead us nowhere, naturally.

Da-jeong is fully in her element when she finds the dead body. She has always been interested in detective stories and so this murder case is a welcome change to her normal everyday school life. In fact, she has always been waiting for a dead student as the initial episode with another boy who seems to have been poisened hints at. She instantly has he camera in her hands and takes pictures at the scene. That Da-jeong is actually a beautiful girl behind her hair curtain is a cheap trick that is supposed to add to the romantic factor of the movie. Until the end the romance thankfully takes a backseat, though. "Detectives in 40 Minutes", which is the alternative title, doesn't just aim for teenie audiences. The at times captivating hunt for the murderer surely doesn't look like a game and will be thrilling for adults as well. Especially the pretty bloody murder scene proves that the film is actually aiming for a more mature audience.

4th Period Mystery - Film Screenshot 13

Director Lee Sang-yong has already been working as an assistant director on "My Dear Enemy" as well as "The Houseguest and my Mother" before he shot his debut with its very own peculiarities. The pacing is pretty energetic most of the time, the two students have to run through the corridors of the school from one clue to another and Lee knows how to utilize the setting of the school best for his story. A shaky camera during the numerous chasing scenes raises the tension and thrill factor and the score also does its share to add to the atmosphere. In the end the script along with the character drawings should have been more elaborated, but the film can create nice tension thanks to its tight running time and the fact that it uses most of its time well. "4th Period Mystery" is a welcome change to other thrillers because of its edgy style, even if this also means that the film lacks the final touch.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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