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Original Title:

South Korea 2010


Kang Woo-seok

Park Hae-il
Jeong Jae-yeong
Yoo Joon-sang
Yoo Hae-jin
Yoo Seon
Heo Joon-ho
Kim Sang-ho
Kim Joon-bae

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Story: Ryu Hae-guk (Park Hae-il) is notified of his father's death. He comes to the village his father has lived in and makes the acquaintance of the village elder Cheon Yong-deok (Jeong Jae-yeong). The death of Ryu's father seems to have been the result of his age, but when Ryu, just to be sure, is asking some displeasing questions he gets extraordinarily reserved and even hostile reactions by Cheon and his friends. Therefore, Ryu decides to go to the bottom of why the village wants to get rid of him as soon as possible and asks his former buddy, prosecuter Park Min-wook (Yoo Joon-sang), for help. At first, Park is anything but willing to help Ryu, but it doesn't take long and he is stumbling upon some inconsistencies in a case that the former detective and current village elder Cheon worked on back in his days as a policeman. At the same time Ryu tries to get some information on his own about why his father, a well-respected priest loved by many, had to die. In his investigation he opens doors that better had been left shut and eventually he even has to fear for his life as some power in the village is doing everything to finally dispose of him.

Review: Director Kang Woo-seok is known for his blockbusters "Silmido" or the "Public Enemy"-series. Thus, it shouldn't come as a surprise that his newest movie was a big success at the box office and with critics as well. "Moss" in fact has some amenities that make it stand out from those thrillers that came out the last few years and which are so vast in numbers that it becomes difficult to keep track of all of them. One thing sticks out the most, however, and that's the running time of 163 minutes. I take my non-existent hat off to any director who has the courage to bring a movie with such an exhausting running time to the big screen uncut. Nonetheless, this very fact proves to be the biggest flaw of the movie. That is because a lot of dramaturgical dropouts and confusion within the script could have been avoided by cutting the thriller more viewer-friendly. Furthermore, the film creates a very genuine mood which at some points can also wander off into black humor and which might not work out for anyone at any time the way the director may have intended it to. Because of that "Moss" is an interesting thriller, albeit not necessarily recommendable for everyone.

The plot based on an internet cartoon seems to be woven like your typical detective story at first glance. However, the first oddities are soon catching up with the audience. The village is home to some dark secret, strange figures are giving the protagonists a hard time and the behavior of the villagers can also send shivers down your spine. The story is also told by some flashbacks thrown in every now and then and some of them are actually reports of a third party, so that it's even necessary to question their credibility. It's laudable that the audience can keep track of the events unfolding despite all that, but the question still needs to be asked why the story had to be made so complicated. "Moss" mostly works with its characters and since every single one of them gets his screen-time the thriller seems a bit overloaden and its running time is relentlessly dragging on and on. If Kang at some points had concentrated on what's really important you would have had it so much easier as a viewer and wouldn't show symptoms of fatigue, eventually.

Besides the atmosphere the characters are the film's true upside. The several side stories are all linked to them and it soon becomes very apparent in the movie, that there was great effort put into working out the characters. Park Hae-il ("The Host", "Jealousy is my Middle Name") may be delivering a satisfying portrait of the story's hero, however, compared to the others he is actually rather shallow and most of all is outshined by Jeong Jae-yeong ("Going by the Book", "Castaway on the Moon"). Jeong depicts the mysterious and manipulative village elder who is very difficult to figure out and always may have something up his sleeve. Surely, nothing good for our hero and therefore his character remains quite dangerous despite his advanced age. At this point the make-up artists also deserve some words of praise. All the aged characters, most of all the village elder of course, look extremely realistic. Moreover, Jeong masters his role with such brilliance that he is the secret star of the film. Apart from the physical handicap that comes with age he manages to fuse different complex character traits into a homogenous individual.

In general, the different individuals are the most interesting in "Moss". Even the comic-like right hand of the village elder, played by perpetual supporting actor Yoo Hae-jin ("Jeon Woo Chi: The Taoist Wizard"), is fascinating and entertaining enough to make up for many of the obvious flaws of the movie. Unfortunately, the charismatic Yoo Joon-sang gets too little time as prosecutor Park, but his mutual past with Ryu that is hinted at is the groundwork of a nice chemistry unfolding between the two. The movie's actual pivot, though, is the cat-and-mouse game between Ryu and the village elder in which course dead people start to pile up, too. Concerning this there are also some bloody scenes to be found, but most of the time they are so absurd and full of black humor, that you just have to laugh out loud. Especially the rather wacky characters will make you laugh no matter how much you want to fight it. And this even though the movie's atmosphere is pretty dark and mysterious for most parts. Adding to that are some really nice sets. Most of all, a secret tunnel, for some reason connecting two houses, is contributing very much to the at times extraordinarily unsettling chilly mood.

You will need some time to adopt to this strange mix of a thriller, horror movie and black comedy. But even then some scenes will remain somewhat strangely out of place. Sadly, it also has to be pointed out that the script isn't written that smartly as it would like to come across. Apart from some behavior patterns of the characters that can't be comprehended there are also certain plot holes and awkwardly written dialogues at times, but what's the most annoying is the running time of the film. It's not easy to decide what's not important and therefore can be cut out, no doubt about it, but it almost seems as if the director wanted to give all of his ideas room in the final cut without thinking of the viewer's patience. This is all too much and with all the little side stories and story shreds flying around the audience soon doesn't know what the use of all this is, especially when you consider that the ending, despite some twists, isn't really that innovative when you think about it. The fantastic and at some times imaginative directing, the nice cinematography and the tense atmosphere actually made me want to recommend "Moss" without hesitation, but for that the negative aspects are just too severe.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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