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South Korea 2011

Thriller, Drama

Park In-je

Hwang Jeong-min
Jin Goo
Kim Sang-ho
Kim Min-hee
Lee Kyeong-yeong
Kim Bo-yeon
Jeong Man-shik
Bae Seong-woo
Kim Min-jae

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Moby Dick

Story: A terrorist attack on the Baram Bridge is keeping the media on tenterhooks in the year 1994. Soon rumors spread that North Korean spies are responsible for the attack and the reporter Lee Bang-woo (Hwang Jeong-min) takes a closer look at the case. By chance that's just when an old friend of his, Yoon Hyeok (Jin Goo), contacts him and says that he has stolen secret documents from the government in his possession and is now on the run. The documents are saved on floppy disks which are encrypted and so Bang-woo has no other choice but to first look for another way to get some new information. Together with his team, which consists of the ever polite Son Jin-gi (Kim Sang-ho) and the bright Seong Hyo-gwan (Kim Min-hee), the reporter begins to uncover a conspiracy that makes a shadow government behind the official men in politics very likely. Bang-woo also gets closer and closer to decrypting the floppy disks but during his investigation he steps on dangerous ground. Not only his telephone is tapped, he is also constantly visited by a group of thugs. In the end he even has to fear for his life.

Review: The title of this movie might be misleading because in fact "Moby Dick" has nearly nothing in common with the classic novel by Herman Melville except a few small references. Instead we get a investigative thriller in which a shadow government ensures that there is enough material for conspiracy stories to solidly entertain for the film's 112 minutes running time. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't manage to exceed this "solid" quality because for that it lacks the emotional depth and for some part the necessary thrill factor as well. What actually makes "Moby Dick" fascinating, though, is that the story takes place in the 90s and thus brings something pseudo-historical to a maybe otherwise a bit too hackneyed story. It is interesting to see how you had to investigate a good lead story almost 20 years ago. Back then a lot more legwork was involved than today and this also paves the groundwork for some pretty thrilling moments.

The special flair of the movie becomes apparent in scenes that deal with floppy disks which are encrypted by a simple four-digit password while no one tries to give us a far-fetched explanation about some sort of algorithm that can decipher the password. Here, stultifying trial and error input is supposed to solve the problem, the printers also make for nostalgic feelings and at the subway station there are never-ending lines in front of the payphones! Mobile phones aren't around as long as you might think. But apparently hip hair cuts which for some unknown reasons have made it from the present into the past are. Anyway, this framework gives the movie something special and without it "Moby Dick" most likely would have been erased from our memory very soon. Apart from that the story somehow lacks inventiveness, though, and the characters also show lack of color.

Hwang Jeong-min ("Blades of Blood") takes on the leading role and comes across pretty likeable. Still, he somehow lacks some basic character traits, and a private life as well. The attempts to establish some parallels to the literary source material every now and then are mostly unsuccessful, too. Bang-woo chases after the people behind the government, but the blind hatred of a captain Ahab is nowhere to be seen and the determination going hand in hand with it neither. He has no personal motivation and as things progress the script simply doesn't make us think about this deficit, anymore, thanks to the usage of some certain plot devices. From some point onward the reporter has no other choice but to investigate the case until the end, no matter the costs. Sadly, he sometimes approaches things rather ineffectively and haphazardly.

However, the movie is a pleasant surprise when it comes to the supporting cast. Kim Sang-ho, who embodies the polite reporter Jin-gi, is normally only allowed to play the second fiddle because of his not that ideal looks, but this time he gets a pretty likeable role and he makes the best of it. The female reporter in the team can win us over in the end as well. Nevertheless, Jin Goo ("Mother") has to play the role of one of the characters that clearly make the movie's flaws come to the foreground. He has a few emotional scenes but they aren't convincing in the least since there is no fundament for them. Therefore, the dramatic insertions in "Moby Dick" can't really excite anyone. If the story had been woven more around the individual characters the result might have been different.

The narration in "Moby Dick" is too loose, over long periods of time we are even left completely in the dark about certain facts and you also shouldn't expect all the answers. The good idea behind the plot would have demanded a more tightly written screenplay, because the way it is, there are often too many lengths which first-time director Park In-je tries to streamline with a few action scenes. The action might in fact blend in well and the directing is solid as well, but that doesn't change the actual problem of the film. "Moby Dick" has an interesting cast and a nice 90s flair to it, yet it fails when it comes to the elaboration of the characters and the unstructured narration. Nonetheless, an entertaining conspiracy thriller is the result that surely deserves a look from fans of the genre. However, Korean directors are still somehow having a hard time to deliver in this genre it seems.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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