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Desire to Kill - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Joogigo Sipeun

South Korea 2009

Thriller, Comedy

Jo Won-hee
Kim Sang-hwa

Cheon Ho-jin
Yoo Hae-jin
Seo Hyo-rim
Lee Jeong-heon
Ra Mi-ran
Ahn Eun-jeong

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Desire to Kill

aka Enemy at the Dead End

Story: Kim Min-ho (Cheon Ho-jin) lies in a hospital bed as he is partially paralyzed. However, that doesn't prevent him from trying to take his own life. After one of numerous failed attempts Min-ho gets a new roommate. Park Sang-eob (Yoo Hae-jin) had a bad accident and surgery on his brain. Accordingly, he can't move and suffers from memory loss. However, Min-ho recognizes the man right away. He is the murderer of his wife. Henceforth, he has the only goal in life to get healthy enough to kill Sang-eob. Nurse Ha (Seo Hyo-rim) helps him with his recovery, but Sang-eob starts to feel better and better as well. When the doctor in charge gives the two the opportunity to give a new drug a try which is still in testing phase the condition of the patients starts to become better every day but Min-ho desperately needs to get better before Sang-eob. Side effects of the new drug include nightmares and hallucinations, though, so that the two patients soon don't know anymore what's reality and what's not.

Review: "Desire to Kill" is an incredibly appealing psychological thriller which after a long lean period finally delivers some innovation to the audience. In fact, we first believe to watch a movie from about ten years ago when Korea had its cinematic heyday. No wonder many want to compare the movie to "Oldboy", but this attempt can only fail. "Desire to Kill" comes along with its very own style and almost looks like a stage play since the movie takes place in a hospital room most of the time and also returns to the few other locations over and over again. The exceptionally well written story connects thriller with black humor, which brightens up the otherwise pretty dark atmosphere in a pleasant way.

The thriller throws us into the action right from the beginning without delivering any kind of introduction. We only know that Min-ho doesn't want to to live any longer and therefore has several suicide attemps behind him. However, somehow he always has bad luck and survives. Even the electroshock therapy can't prevent him from further suicide attempts. This changes when Sang-eob turns up. The two directors Jo Won-hee and Kim Sang-hwa portray events by very clever means in their debut work. Even though it isn't truely easy to sympathize with Min-ho, there are a few scenes, like that with nurse Ha or the little girl, which can convince us that he isn't a bad person. We mainly see the events from his perspective, but when new information surfaces, this changes.

Sang-eob is initially portrayed as a lewd pain in the neck, but at some point we have to start questioning what we believe to know. This is also related to the new drug and its side effects. What of the things we get to see is imagination or a trick of subconsciousness and what is reality? Memories become blurred, shift, the viewer suddenly becomes doubtful and none of the two characters seems likeable anymore. A brave choice by the directors and it pays off. This is also very much so thanks to the effort of two great actors, Cheon Ho-jin ("The Guard Post") and Yoo Hae-jin ("Jeon Woochi"), who are normally only to be seen in supporting roles. For most part they are responsible for the dynamics of the movie to work out.

On the other hand there is Seo Hyo-rim, otherwise only to be seen in drama shows, who in her role as a nurse is caring like a daughter. Her childish-naive nature provides a well-achieved contrast to the oftentimes very gritty battle between the two sick people. The sets and the fact that the movie takes place in the year 1984 make the hospital look pretty creepy in dim light as well. Most importantly it's the very successfully utilized black humor that manages to excite. Min-ho always comes up with amazing ideas how to kill Sang-eob, although he himself is bedridden. That's incredibly funny, even if it might seem improper. When the numerous hits on Sang-eob's head and the resulting strokes actually lead to Sang-eob feeling better and better you can't help but to love the subtle humor of the movie.

The tense atmosphere and the mystery about who the two patients really are and what connection they share with each other is instantly captivating. The at first funny war between the two becomes more bloody and grim, but the black humor is never lost track of, even leading to a great hommage to the well-known showdown in pouring rain. "Desire to Kill" doesn't simply leave us with questions either, but delivers a good twist, after the first one we actually could foresee. That twist at the end might seem a bit artificial maybe, but it is nonetheless conclusive and well-done. Even more important it strikes us as a big surprise that serves as the cherry on the cake in this inventive thriller. A true insider tip that you shouldn't miss!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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