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Original Title:

South Korea 2015

Thriller, Mystery

Hong Won-chan

Ko Ah-seong
Park Seong-woong
Bae Seong-woo
Kim Ee-seong
Ryoo Hyeon-kyeong
Lee Chae-eun
Son Soo-hyeon
Park Jeong-min
Oh Dae-hwan

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Office - Film Screenshot 1

Story: One day, Kim Byeong-gook (Bae Seong-woo) kills his whole family with a hammer. Detective Jong-hoon (Park Seong-woong) visits the working place of the murderer and is looking for clues to the motive as well as possible whereabouts of Byeong-gook. During his questioning of the employees it turns out that Kim was a reliable worker and that nothing pointed at his act of violence. Only intern Lee Mi-rae (Ko Ah-seong) seems to be worse when it comes to lying than the rest of the employees. But the police don't get much out of her either. In fact Byeong-gook was the only colleague she got along with well, which is why she is shocked the most about his actions. But Mi-rae has her hands full not to do anything wrong and get her colleagues to accept her. Actually, she already should have been hired by the company, but her diligence seems to alienate her colleagues. When another body is found at the office everyone is sure that Byeong-gook has to be hiding somewhere in the office. Adding to this horror Mi-rae is also plagued by the fear to lose her job since suddenly another intern is hired,,,

Filmroll Office - Film Screenshot 2 Office - Film Screenshot 3 Filmroll
Office - Film Screenshot 4

Review: It is a bit irritating that there are two movies with the title "Office" that came out of Asia in the year 2015. If you are looking for the musical by Johnnie To, that's the other "Office". The South Korean thriller deals with its topic in a way darker and more nightmarish manner. Unfortunately, the film turns out to be a slasher flick towards the end featuring surprisingly little violence for genre fans, though. In the end, the movie tries to appeal to horror fans and those viewers who can bear a bit of social criticism alike. It shouldn't surprise that "Office" ends up satisfying none of the two groups. At first, there are still a few satirical elements to be made out in the film, but the more the story progresses the more serious it takes itself and that's not a good thing, because "Office" isn't really that well-written.

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Still, the closed room of the office with its bleak lights and the monotonous sound of keybord typing and a copy machine in the background actually set a pretty decent stage for a horror flick. The first murder is extremely brutal, even though we don't get to see it and only hear sounds. Prior to his directing debut Hong Won-chan has already worked on "The Chaser" and those who remember the killing with the hammer will know exactly what to expect here. However, until the finale there isn't much bloodshed at all. Yet, everything revolves around life and death, nonetheless. But not the way you might imagine. Instead, "Office" deals with preserving one's job. And in Korea this is easily the same as your own life - more so than in other countries.

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So, the actual horror here is losing your job. For Mi-rae, who is hoping to finally get hired for quite a while already, this is even more of a big deal. She may be incredibly hard working, but she isn't accepted by her colleagues, since her social skills leave a lot to be desired. And this even though she tries very hard. But that's what makes her dislikable for her male and female colleagues. No one likes someone who tries to deliver better work than oneself. With this Mi-rae shows certain parallels to the killer Kim Byeong-gook. The movie also toys with this fact and the more pressure increases on Mi-rae the more thrilling the story gets. It's this subtle kind of bullying that lead "Office" to its strongest moments. Unfortunately, the characters aren't nearly as well-written as would have been necessary for the film to get some serious depth.

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Accordingly, a lot of things merely remain implied. At least the film manages to create an atmosphere full of angst. And not necessarily in those scenes when light is flickering spookily, but when Mi-rae has to survive her stressful everyday life at work while being scolded from everyone around her. Ko Ah-seong ("Thread of Lies", "Snowpiercer") sometimes goes a bit overboard with her face constantly expressing shock, but then again, she manages to score in enough other scenes. Sadly, the screenplay doesn't give her the chance to shine that much. That's particularly the casae when it comes to Park Seong-woong ("Tabloid Truth") as the detective. He may have a certain kind of charisma to him and his chemistry with Ko is better than you would expect with the half-baked screenplay, but he also doesn't manage to make his role anything out of the ordinary.

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As soon as it becomes clear that "Office" only marginally deals with everyday life at the office and doesn't put the fear of every office worker in the spotlight, the film starts to falter more and more. Towards the end we actually even get to see a typical slasher flick. Of all the paths the movie could have taken this is the most unspectacular one and so there is only disappointment at the end. The screenplay doesn't just have problems when it comes to fleshing out its characters, though. There are also a few rather clumsy twists, that are supposed to push the case forward. And the somewhat supernatural element that retrospectively runs through the whole movie, simply doesn't fit into all of this. There are also serious flaws when it comes to the editing since some of the flashbacks aren't really woven into the movie that well. If it weren't for a glimpse of substance in the shape of criticism on company structures still being apparent, "Office" would have been even more of a disappointment. There certainly was potential, though.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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