Story: Kim Seok-hyeon (Ji Jin-hee) is chosen as Korea's youngest presiding Judge of Seoul High Court. Everything in his life goes according
to plan until his wife (Yoon Se-ah) is murdered. Kim gets calls from an unknown man who tells him that this is just the beginning of him taking revenge on
Kim, but the police, led by Lee Kang-seong (Lee Jong-hyuk), have soon caught the man. Meanwhile, Kim holds his next case in his hands, which revolves around
a man who claims that he leads the same life as a mathematician from one hundred years ago. That's when the judge remembers a reporter who has informed him that
his résumé reads just like that of another judge from thirty years ago. His investigation, supported by his clerk Seo Jeong-woon (Park Byeong-eun), uncovers
that this man's wife has been murdered as well, and shortly thereafter he himself and his child got killed, too. Kim is shocked by the striking
similiarities and believes that the police have apprehended the wrong guy and that he has only a few day left in order to avert his own death and that of
his daughter. As a matter of fact the judge doesn't believe in an unalterable fate.
Review: Even when watching "Parallel Life" you will be in bewilderment about the muddle-headed story. It's not that it's difficult to follow,
apart from a few small exceptions, but the coincidences and many needless subplots which are forcibly squeezed into a big whole will just put you in awe.
And not really in a positive sense as the conincidences make this odd mystery thriller seem like a test of what the viewer is willing to buy from the
scriptwriter. And even for a benevolent critic the writers really go out on a limb here. Despite the attempt to tell a thrilling story the convoluted
screenplay, which wants to look especially smart, and the not at all times nicely executed direction make this a disappointing thriller in the end.
The story is based on the theory of parallel lives, which became particularly popular through presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, of which one became president
in 1860 and the other one in 1960, since there is some concordance to be found in their lives. Of course those are merely coincidences that are easy to
explain and whose probability is in part everything but small, and there are also some factual errors, but it gives you a good mystery peg to hang the
story on. However, it begs the question how this does leave any space for suspense in "Parallel Life" if the judge knows right from the start what he is in
for in the end. Because it doesn't seem as if he could do anything to avoid his fate. On the contrary, it seems as if everything he does to escape his
curse results in him finding himself in precarious situations in the first place.
Director Kwon Ho-young, who later on should remain true to the mystery genre with his "The Gifted Hands", oftentimes captures
the events with a hectically moving camera, but at a closer look there isn't any suspense to be found. Particularly heavy-handed is the execution of the
action scenes, if it comes to a direct confrontation at all. Also, the question remains what should make us become interested in the characters and their
fate. It's not just that the individuals are written mediocre at best, they are, especially in the case of the judge, outright unappealing. Ji Jin-he
("Soo", "The Old Garden") gives a performance that remains a closed book. He somehow seems
remote and arrogant, as if there were a secret of his waiting for us to be uncovered later on.
And this brings us to a really aggravating topic. "Parallel Life" is doing very much everything in its power to present just another twist after another... and another. Some of them are foreseeable, but then again just turn out to be red herrings. If everything might turn out completely different in the end then this is achieved at the cost of believability. During the finale the events even come thick and fast, but instead of being hooked by a smart screenplay, you will simply facepalm. Once again a piece of advice for filmmakers: Better use a smaller amount of twists and those that you implement shouldn't go beyond the scope of what's realistic. Naturally, you might argue that you can't talk of "realistic" when it comes to a mystery thriller, but does the film really want to be that? If this were the case then director Kwon has lost sight of the story's mystery roots more than once.
It also does "Parallel Life" harm that the story develops by leaps and bounds. The at times rather hectical presentation at some point becomes tiresome and the subplots all don't fit together really, but they are joined together nonetheless. The zoom-ins and shaky camera irritate eventually and some of the twists simply prove to be outright illogical, but the director tries to conceal this fact by lining them up one after another at a breakneck pacing. At the end this results in a thriller that wants to be modern and suspenseful, but is neither of both. "Parallel Life" is solid enough to somehow entertain for its 110 minutes running time, but at the end the convoluted story makes you wonder whether you were just served fish or fowl. Or even just some vegetarian dish...