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An Ethics Lesson - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Boon-no-eui yoon-ri-hak

South Korea 2013

Genre:
Thriller, Comedy

Director:
Park Myeong-rang

Cast:
Lee Je-hoon
Jo Jin-woong
Kim Tae-hoon
Kwak Do-won
Moon So-ri
Ko Sung-hee
Han Seong-yong


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An Ethics Lesson

An Ethics Lesson - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Jeong-hoon (Lee Je-hoon) has installed CCTVs and microphones in the home of his neighbor Jin-ah (Ko Sung-hee) and secretly watches her all day long. Since she is in debt with loan shark Myeong-rok (Jo Jin-woong) she has been dating professor Soo-taek (Kwak Do-won) for a while already. When one evening she spends the night with him and he leaves her place it turns out that her ex-boyfriend Hyeon-soo (Kim Tae-hoon) has been in her apartment all the time. In his anger he kills Jin-ah and leaves. Jeong-hoon watches the whole scene at his monitor, but can't intervene. He also can't inform the police since this could lead to unpleasant questions being asked. However, the next day the body is found and Jeong-hoon is questioned, who also happens to be a traffic policeman. For the police the culprit is soon found in the professor and Jeong-hoon can't tell them that they have the wrong guy without revealing his own wrongdoings. But after the real killer once again visits the apartment of his ex-girlfriend in order to kill himself out of guilt he discovers one of the cameras. He and Jeong-hoon put the blame of the murder on each other, but then there is also ruthless loan shark Myeong-rok entering the scene...

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Review: There are movies that can mainly arouse interest by making us wonder for a while what genre they are exactly supposed to belong to. "An Ethics Lesson" seems to be a dark thriller, but the black humor is oftentimes pushing to the foreground so strong that you can be sure: The film doesn't want to be taken serious. And this again leads to the story not being able to score. Because for most part this fact derives the movie of any suspense, which last but not least is also underlined by the fact that it's clear from the getgo who the murderer is. Then, "At Ethics Lesson" somehow tries to approach the search for the murderer from a socio-critical perspective, too, and granted, it's difficult to find a distinct answer to who's responsible. But the tone of this thriller saturated with black humor remains a tripping wire that can't be ignored.

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In the end, everything revolves around money or your own desires and the question of guilt remains a minor matter for those involved. Only Hyeon-soo, who has killed his ex-girlfriend with his own two hands, seriously struggles with his conscience. Yet, it is very difficult to accept him as a sympathetic figure, even the less since there is no intention of the screenwriter to make him one. For this his character is written too shallow. Kim Tae-hoon ("The Admiral: Roaring Currents") also delivers the most bland performance of the ensemble cast. Lee Je-hoon ("Bleak Night") at least manages to be an oddly wacky voyeur who somehow always believes to occupy the moral high ground, although he certainly has some mental problems. Jo Jin-woong ("Nameless Gangster") on the other hand gives his character the most colors and manages to be memorable. As is the case with Moon So-ri ("Venus Talk") who can be seen in a small role as a strong wife.

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If not before already you will certainly realize that this is no ordinary thriller when watching the gangster holding forth about anger being the strongest of all human emotions while getting tickled at his feet by a prostitute. The black humor can be appealing, but sometimes it feels a bit contrived, which may also be since we are constantly made aware that the story doesn't want to be taken too serious. As already said, this stands in heavy contrast to the film's aim of also hitting some more sociocritical notes. Moreover, "An Ethics Lesson" also loses part of its suspense because of it. Even without that problem the suspense level suffers from us not caring about any of the individuals' faith in the story. Yet, the thriller isn't boring since it is fast edited and the atmosphere is so lively, but also unfocused, that you just want to know how things are being resolved.

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The movie's lack of focus is thus not only apparent in its erratic tone, but also in its story. Towards the end all threads are supposed to come together like on a single stage, but that's when the screenplay steps into the limelight too obviously as if being another protagonist and the stage, which the final act takes place on, almost destroys the fourth wall. That somehow just doesn't feel right. Furthermore, as the story progresses we constantly get to see one scene with person A in which person B is introduced, whereupon the events up to this point are shown again, this time from person B's point of view. A neat stylistic device, but it is clearly used way too often and thus only evokes raised eyebrows. However, the frequent bird's eye view shots are nice to look at as is some camera work when we follow wires etc. within a building to the outside.

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Sometimes, "An Ethics Lesson" can also be a bit violent, but it surely is no erotic thriller as the marketing department apparently wanted to make us believe. Since the story isn't woven neatly some of the scenes don't look funny, but rather odd since they are stretched out too much. Accordingly, the flick falls victim to its own ambition to cover as many genres as possible. The lack of coherence thus also doesn't allow me to give a definite recommendation. Some scenes prove that "An Ethics Lesson" is working above average, others again are just frustrating since the potential, which surely is there, isn't made use of. Nevertheless, the film is certainly of interest to all those thriller fans who are looking for that special something and also don't have a disaffection toward black humor.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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