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Original Title:
Uri dongne

South Korea 2007

Thriller, Drama

Jeong Gil-yeong

Lee Seon-gyun
Oh Man-seok
Ryu Deok-Hwan
Park Myeong-sin
Lee Kap-seon
Lee Moo-saeng
Jeong In-gi
Choi Jeong-woo
Kang I-seok
Yukie Mori
Moon Ga-yeong

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Our Town

aka Dark Town

Story: In a small town a serial killer strikes terror into people's hearts. There are already four victims, all found at public places, being displayed as if hung on a cross. The police is without a clue. The leading investigator in the case, Jae-shin (Lee Seon-gyun), follows the few hints there are. Doing so he stumbles from one dead end to the next. But suddenly a fifth victim is found, which might be the work of a copykiller, though. Now, the police may even have to look for two murderers.
Meanwhile, Jae-shin's friend Gyeong-ju (Oh Man-seok) struggles getting the money to pay his rent. He is an unsuccessful writer, who starts to have a personal interest in the serial murder case, wanting to write a story about it. However, one day he gets into an argument with his landlady, which escalates, eventually. Gyeong-ju kills the woman in the heat of the moment and makes the murder look like it was the work of the serial killer. The actual serial killer Hyo-i (Ryu Deok-Hwan), however, knows about Gyeong-ju's crime and even seems to know a lot more than this about him. While Gyeong-ju tries to find out what bond connects him with Hyo-i, Jae-shin is hot on the killers' trail.

Review: "Our Town" bestows a new perspective on the serial killer-genre by putting the focus not only on one, but two killers at the same time, who both choose murder as a tool to cope with their traumatic past. Also, one of the murderers is maybe even supposed to stand as something like the "hero" of the story, yet eventually the movie fails despite (or maybe because) of its high ambition. One of the reasons being the lack of focus when it comes to the story and the characters, who all may be played quite well, but never seem lifelike. The identity of the killers is never a riddle to be solved as we get the answer right from the start, and therefore this isn't what makes the film gripping. It's more about the motives of the individuals, which nevertheless only manage to awaken our interest to a very small degree, since we can never weave an emotional bond to the characters or want to. Credit goes to the realisation of the dark atmosphere and the fact that the filmmakers wanted to provide a new touch to the genre, even if, due to the slow pacing, there is simply boredom to be found at some points.

Gyeong-ju is the most interesting guy of the bunch. He has fantasies of killing and they can be quite disturbing in their depiction of brutality. During the first imagined murder the audience doesn't know yet, that it actually is a product of Gyeong-ju's imagination what we get to see, therefore intentionally or unintentionally there is some sort of emotional distance build up between him and the viewer. When later on he kills his landlady, we even get the impression that this might not be the first murder he commits. But even though we can't develop any sympathy for this individual, we still ask ourselves what exactly made him a murderer and from what kind of psychosis he is suffering. And since when? But even more important is why. Director Jeong Gil-yeong manages in his debut to underline this question even more by throwing in a second killer, who shares the same need to kill as Gyeong-ju. The source of this need naturally is to be found in the childhood of these two men, but that's also where the movie starts to get tangled in unnecessary flashbacks and cross-overs as well as convergences that seem artificial.

Especially at the beginning it's not very easy to make out on which time level the movie is working on at the very moment, or if a certain scene is only a fictive scene out of the head of one of the characters. However, more than anything else the flashbacks can be quite confusing, as it's very hard to pinpoint what exact young alter ego of the main characters we are actually looking at during the flashbacks, a problem apparent until the end. That's frustrating, and especially the melodramatic relations, which by the way feel extremely forced, can't really be convincing when it comes to the film's resolution.
The true problem, though, is the friendship between policeman and killer, which never strikes the right notes. Thus, it just doesn't seem honest when Jae-shin tries to deny that his friend is actually a murderer, even if all the evidence points to that fact. Hyo-i on the other hand is clichéloaden. The quiet, nice neighbor next door with boyish facial features, who seemingly can't harm anyone, but behind whose facade hides a coldblooded killer - this is nothing we haven't seen before.

Annoying are also some of the logical gaps. The investigation is undertaken by people who don't seem to have a plan where they are heading and we aren't really surprised to see the police run in circles over and over again. Furthermore, it remains questionable why Hyo-i has to kill some cops later on, since concerning his previous victims he always had some sort of emotional connection to them. Suddenly, his motives are overshadowed by the new motive of killing for the sake of killing. That doesn't fit into the picture, and moreover it seems pretty far-fetched how some of the situations evolve, having its climax when we ask ourselves how Gyeong-ju can identify and visit the killer only seperated by a few minutes from Jae-shin, by taking a completely different approach than Jae-shin who just went to Hyo-i's house. Of course, that is to introduce the dramatic showdown, which sadly isn't really one, since we don't care for the fate of the two killers. Jae-shin might be one of the good guys, but he can't create enough sympathy for the viewer to cross his fingers for him.

However, there would have been enough time to draw the characters more explicitly, resp. to make them more accessible for the audience, as it would have been reasonable to cut the movie a bit shorter at some points and use that additional time to fill it with some more significant themes. The way it is, we often are overcome by a feeling of boredom, which can't be outweighed by the sinister and, because of the brutality shown, disturbing atmosphere either.
You have to give the film kudos for the fact that it's not your typical cat-and-mouse chase which it puts into the focus, and moreover the premise of two killers into whose past we dive is also an interesting one, but in the end the movie remains too distant for us to be really excited about it. Additionaly, despite the good technical expertise shown, the screenplay has to be criticized as it seems to be written somewhat amateurishly or maybe is just too rough around the edges. When all is said and done, this is simply a mediocre thriller with an interesting main plot, that sadly never really manages to be gripping. Too bad.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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