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Original Title:
Yuwolui ilgi

South Korea 2005

Thriller, Crime, Drama

Im Kyung-soo

Shin Eun-kyung
Eric Moon Jeong-hyuk
Kim Yoon-jin
Lee Yo-seob
Yoon Joo-sang
Woo Bong-sik
Jeon Hanssen
Woo Joon-yeong
Oh Jeong-se

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Diary of June

aka Bystanders

Story: Ja-young (Shin Eun-kyung) is called to a crime scene with her partner Dong-wook (Eric Moon Jeong-hyuk). Soon, this becomes a clear case for all the investigators, because it seems to be out of question that the dead did commit suicide. Only Ja-young doubts her colleagues' conclusion, as the victim was attending the same school and class as another victim that was killed on a rainy night on an open street a few days ago. During the autopsy there is a little piece of paper found in the suicide's stomach. On it there is exactly described how the murder was executed. After researching the body of the first victim again, there is another piece of paper found, also in the victim's stomach. Now, there is no doubt, that the murderer is a serial killer.
Ja-young believes that the killer commits his murders according to a diary, in which the boy Jin-mo wrote down his fantasies. Jin-mo was bullied and tyrannized by his classmates and eventually committed suicide. But who is killing the students according to Jin-mo's diary?
While the investigators go after any clue, Ja-young also has to struggle with some private problems. Her nephew (Lee Yo-seob), who she has taken custody of after her sister died, never listens to her and oftentimes skips school. Furthermore, Ja-young meets an old friend, Yoon-hee (Kim Yoon-jin), during her investigation, who evokes old memories. Strangely, somehow, by some means or other everything seems to be connected with the murder case she is working on.

Review: "Diary of June" is a well-done cop-thriller which mood ranges from funny/charming to gloomy/tragic. At first we are led to believe to see a nice police comedy, which is mainly thanks to the charismatic performance of Shin Eun-kyung. However, as the film progresses things become more gloomy and serious. After all, director Im Kyung-soo even constructs a nice story with a morally appealing undertone. So it's easy to forgive the script's flaws and the fact that the movie actually could have become better, because "Bystanders" (which is the alternative title) is a very entertaining and captivating thriller, nonetheless.

The reason why "Diary of June" works out better then it should is Shin Eun-kyung ("My Wife is a Gangster") and her tomboy-like/bold portrayal of the police woman, who takes the liberty to do some things that even her male colleagues would get a wigging for. She just radiates an incredible charisma and despite her perky character is also as hard-boiled as you would expect it from a police officer who has already seen quite a bit.
As a partner she has the young cop Dong-wook, played by Eric Moon Jeong-hyu, at her side, who still has a lot to learn from her, but because of his self-confident character is everything but the odd one out. If things would go his way he would really like to have some free time every now and then, as he obviously is a womanizer, but his modest macho character trait is always undermined by Ja-young, who only cares about her work and doesn't let her partner have some hours of free time, anyway. The buddy factor between the two is just great and there is also some funny sexual tension, that shouldn't be taken too serious, though, because soon you'll get the picture that these two are just good friends.

The rest of the cast is also pretty good. Lee So-yeob makes a good impression as Ja-young's nephew, who is rebelling against his aunt, which also gives Shin Eun-kyung the opportunity to give her character more facets in the more dramatic scenes, really adding to the overall quality of the film. However, even the smaller roles, for instance Ja-young's superior, who may stay a bit one-dimensional, still prove to be very likeable individuals.
Then there is also Kim Yoon-jin ("Shiri", "Lost"), of course. Her character in general remains in the dark until the last minutes, but she gets her scenes to display her acting skills. And yes, she really can act, we know that, so it really seems somewhat futile to let her cry into the camera in one certain scene for minutes just to prove it.
Moreover, it's interesting that the movie's aim is not for the viewer to guess who the killer is, because that is pretty obvious rather soon, but the reason why the murders are committed is what it's all about.

That brings us to the story which is actually pretty good. Being thrilling at any time, there is even still another twist when we thought to have overlooked the whole picture. That's the way it's supposed to be with a good thriller. It's just unfortunate that the script has some flaws. Our "heroes" oftentimes run in circles concerning their investigation and stumble from one hint to the other. Furthermore, the private issues and funny dialogues pull the viewer out of the main story at times. If there is one thing to blame the movie for then it is that it doesn't feel as a whole and that the script would have needed some serious finishing touches.
The story-telling, however, is really nice, because although we accompany Ja-young most of the time, the story also jumps to Yoon-he every now and then, especially towards the end. Here, we also get some epilogues and monologues that inform us about what we actually could have thought of ourselves thanks to several clues and hints. The flashbacks can be quite confusing at first, since they are thrown in without a warning, but soon we are able to make out on which time level the film is currently working, so that this stylistic device eventually even adds to the film's qualities.

Technically, the movie is flawless. Dark sets, streets, that are only illuminated by the cold light of lanterns and a constant waterfall of pattering rain give a framework for the right atmosphere. "Diary of June" is gloomy, when it is supposed to be, but as already said there is also a good amount of humor. For instance, there is one certain scene involving a deep frozen squid and an iron, or the verbal fights between Ja-young and her superior that are just fun to watch. Moreover, the chemistry between the several characters is just great at any time.
Nevertheless, the movie is way from being perfect. It's hard to pinpoint what the exact problem is. It just feels as if the film is too jumpy from time to time. There are some gaps in the story-telling and so the movie loses some of its impact, especially concerning its morally touched message. Maybe one should have reduced the admittedly great humor to make the end product a bit more thrilling.
Be that as it may, with its dramatic and socio-critical undertone the director can get some extra points. Especially nowadays, in which we almost daily hear of fights and bullying at schools, which are recorded with cell phones, the topic of "Diary of June" is an explosive one and very up-to-date.

Throughout the film you'll find yourself thinking that "Bystanders" could have been better. Generally, a gripping, dark and at the same time enthralling thriller, the film somehow lacks all-out high quality to make it right to the top into the league of the very good thrillers. Fans of the genre, however, will get their money's worth and maybe even more. And because of its high entertainment value the movie is also recommendable to the average viewer.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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