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Don't Buy the Seller - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2023


Park Hee-gon

Shin Hye-sun
Kim Sung-kyun
Im Sung-jae
Im Chul-soo
Lee Zoo-young

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Don't Buy the Seller

Don't Buy the Seller - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Jang Soo-hyeon (Shin Hye-sun) has just moved into a new apartment and notices that her washing machine hasn't survived the move. Her friend Dal-ja (Lee Zoo-young) simply suggests to buy a cheap, used washing machine via an app. Eventually, she orders one from a private seller. When the machine is connected, though, it turns out that it does not work. Soo-hyeon thinks that she has fallen victim to a scammer and goes to the police. There, Detective Joo (Kim Sung-kyun) informs her that there are countless cases like hers and that an investigation could take several months. Therefore, Soo-hyeon tries to find the scammer on her own. However, she doesn't know that the scammer assumed the identity of another man after he murdered him. Since he sells that man's entire household, Soo-hyeon finally manages to find him online. She warns other potential buyers about the scammer and in that way attracts the murderer's attention. He writes her and tells her to let the washing machine thing go, but Soo-hyeon wants justice and continues to post warnings online. In doing so, she brings down the murderer's anger on herself. At first, there are just delivery services constantly showing up at her door, even though she didn't order any food, but soon the scammer comes up with other ways to make her life unbearable until not only Soo-hyeon starts to panic, but also Detective Joo takes the matter more seriously.

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Review: With "Don't Buy the Seller" we are presented with an interesting thriller whose main objective is to create extreme suspense by increasing the tension nonstop. All the while, the focus is on a protagonist who is not willing to put up with everything and fights for her rights until the psychological pressure simply becomes too strong. This leads to a massive problem later on, but first of all, this movie with the rather unusual English title - the original title is a phonetic paraphrasing of the word for "Target", which would probably have been a more appropriate choice - proves to be a well-done thriller. Especially the natural introduction of the characters is quite neat as we immediately manage to warm up to Soo-hyeon, the same goes for her friend, even though the characters weren't written with that much depth. While everyday life may seem quite carefree at first, the danger of a psychopath is already bubbling beneath the surface. The viewer already knows that the scammer is also a murderer, but the story's heroine is completely unaware of who she is actually messing with.

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In the end, we have a typical stalker movie here, and there are obviously parallels to similar flicks like "Door Lock". However, the movie also draws attention to cybercrime and shows what dimensions it can take on. Moreover, the director refrains from unnecessary violence, only towards the end the movie gets a bit more violent, but that's only fitting. Generally, the story focuses on the psychological terror which Soo-hyeon has to endure. Actress Shin Hye-sun manages to portray this aspect convincingly. It is particularly interesting to watch her inner change and how the terror keeps draining her both mentally and physically, until we see her in a defining scene in which she has to decide whether to continue fighting or to accept her role as a victim with the option of buying her way out of this nightmare. All the while, the investigations are proceeding. But they really just get going when Detective Joo, for whom we initially have little sympathy because he doesn't take the gravity of the case seriously, is finally convinced that something is wrong and that the case is about more than just cybercrime.

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As long as it centers around what you can do with a person's information and data, "Don't Buy the Seller" is undoubtedly full of suspense, and at the latest when Soo-hyeon has to ask herself whether the scammer might even have the code for her apartment door, the nightmare becomes almost palpable, not least thanks to Shin's performance. At some point, however, the scammer/killer gets a face and that's where the problems arise. Because inevitably there has to be a confrontation. The action is not that bad, and the desperate fight for survival is captured nicely, so that we are constantly pushed to the edge of our seats. Unfortunately, that's where you also notice the countless stupid decisions made by the director. Soo-hyeon becomes a damsel in distress who is also not the sharpest tool in the shed. In "Brave Citizen" actress Shin Hye-sun was allowed to play a self-confident, strong woman who didn't just throw herself into the fight but knew that she would have a chance to actually win it. The heroine in this flick is quite different, though. Starting with Soo-hyeon triggering the scammer without thinking about possible consequences, which might still have been acceptable if she didn't end up standing up to the stalker in one moment, only to then run away in panic in the next.

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In the end, the movie once again struggles with problems that are typical for this genre. The protagonist is brave at times, but stupid and helpless at others, just standing there with her eyes closed, screaming when the killer rushes towards her. And the rest of the characters is not that much better either. The detective sets up arguably the most poorly coordinated "trap" in the history of police, and he is unable to hold his own in a physical altercation because he apparently learned at police school that the most effective way of freeing himself from a frontal grip is to drum on the opponent's back. Soo-hyeon also makes so many stupid decisions that you really only see her as a victim at some point, and you almost start rooting for the killer too. The only problem with that is that he is not really smart either. But he thinks he's invincible and he kind of is, because the detective and his victim seem to believe that - there's no other way to explain why his aimless approach doesn't cause his immediate arrest.

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Thus, we have one of those stereotypical thrillers here in which the script portrays the villain as omnipotent. Towards the end this might create a good amount of suspense, but it robs "Don't Buy the Seller" of any kind of credibility and repeatedly makes you roll your eyes. The movie is even at risk of falling apart towards the end. Up until that point, however, you get a well-shot thriller which is driven by the cybercrime theme and therefore manages to generate and maintain quite some interest. The pacing is constantly increasing, and the acting is quite decent if not even very good at times. Even though director Park Hee-gon ("Insadong Scandal") doesn't manage to create anything out of the ordinary, he skillfully maneuvers the story to the finale by adding a good amount of suspense. But that's exactly when he gets tangled up in genre clichés and therefore stains the positive overall impression of the flick. As a thriller, "Don't Buy the Seller" is definitely recommendable, but the finale and the increasingly less intelligent decisions made by the characters have you facepalm quite a lot during the last quarter. Whether or not you can live with that is something everyone has to decide for themselves.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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