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Searching for the Elephant - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Pen-teu-ha-woo-seu Ko-kki-ri

South Korea 2009

Drama, Thriller

Jeong Seung-goo

Jang Hyeok
Jo Dong-hyeok
Lee Sang-woo
Lee Min-jeong
Hwang Woo-seul-hye
Jang Ja-yeon
Jeong Seung-goo
Lee Do-yeong
Jeong In-gi

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Searching for the Elephant

Story: Hyeon-woo (Jang Hyeok) has been dumped by his girlfriend and can't get over her. Apart from his suicide thoughts there are also daydream fantasies stealing their way into his reality. Meanwhile, his friend, plastic surgeon Min-seok (Jo Dong-hyeok), struggles with his sex addiction. He cheats on his wife Soo-yeon (Lee Min-jeong) every opportunity he gets until he is eventually terrorized by someone because of it. Min-seok decides to do something about his addiction and Hyeon-woo accompanies him when he goes to see a psychiatrist. There Hyeon-woo meets a female psychiatrist (Hwang Woo-seul-hye), who he confides in. Also standing at Hyeon-woo's side during his crisis is banker Jin-hyeok (Lee Sang-woo), who after twelve years has returned from America. The two and Min-seok have been friends since their childhood days and apparently Soo-yeon and Jin-hyeok have been a couple twelves years ago. Even now the two still have feelings for one another. While the relationships head for disaster Hyeon-woo still tries to get his ex-girlfriend out of his head and his psychoses under control.

Review: "Searching for the Elephant" is an odd movie and not everyone will be able to like it. The reason for that is more than anything else the directing, which is often overly stylized, and a screenplay whose story thread is often ignored in favor of technical gimmicks. Thus, the plot unfolds in a rather incoherent manner and with its overlong running time it isn't doing the impatient viewer, who wants to know where everything is supposed to be heading eventually, any favor. Yet, there is a special appeal to this thriller/drama, which is particularly carried by the protagonist Hyeon-woo, whose fragile mind constantly blends fantasy and reality and by doing so takes the viewer on an interesting rollercoaster ride.

Searching for the Elephant - Film Screenshot 11

An apparent murder kicks things off, but for a long time after that, almost until the very end, we get to see events unfold in a flashback. Hyeon-woo's friends are introduced and it will take you a while until you can distinguish between the different characters. It also doesn't help that at first we can't really say whether we are going through the flashback in chronological order or not. Furthermore, you are often having a hard time finding out who shares what kind of relationship with whom. Luckily, things become clearer with time and the characters become more and more elaborate. Thanks to its dark tone "Searching for the Elephant" may always look like a thriller, but for most part the movie turns out to be a drama that takes us into a world of three friends, who all have some serious issues.

Searching for the Elephant - Film Screenshot 12

Hyeon-woo's problems seem to be trivial - his girlfriend has left him and he doesn't want to live anymore. However, there are intense signs of strong psychosis and it gets worse. In technical respect this leads to some usage of CGI, of which most is achieved quite well, but not everything. An elephant walking across the sky, Hyeon-woo floats on a board in a flooded city with skyscrapers next to him or during a dialogue the camera moves out of the car and back in - director Jeong Seung-goo, who can be seen in a supporting role as a psychiatrist, obviously has a fun time in his debut work bringing Hyeon-woo's trips into fantasy to the screen. But no matter how well done they might be for most part, they actually stand as the film's main selling point, they also distract from the story.

Jang Hyeok ("The Flu", "The Client") depicts the protagonist in a convincing way, constantly wandering at the cliff of madness, Jo Dong-hyeok and Lee Sang-woo, both mainly known for playing in drama shows, sadly tend to overact, although this doesn't have that much of a negative impact on the movie. Unfortunately, Lee Min-jeong ("Cyrano Agency") falls a bit by the wayside with her role. But that's ok, because the actual stars of the movie are the director's trips into the fantastic realm. However, this, to give just one example, leads to the episode of the female psychiatrist feeling sort of detached from the rest of the story. Moreover, this episode is also a good example of the predictability of the screenplay's development. Yet, there are still some surprises that, especially at the end, manage to throw you off guard.

Searching for the Elephant - Film Screenshot 13

Considering its strong erotic scenes you sometimes get the impression that "Searching for the Elephant" might be an erotic thriller, but it's not. There isn't a definite genre to describe the movie. That might be irritating for some, but in its core the movie is about love and friendship and the dark sides they come along with. The story's individuals are all hurt beings, misunderstood and mentally ill, which makes the metaphor around the elephant, serving as a buoy that helps navigating through a dark, chaotic sea of emotions, work out pretty well. Towards the end the thriller gets a strong thriller-like tone, which underlines once more the alternating nature of the script. With a running time of 146 minutes the drama is also pretty lengthy, but this also helps getting to feel closer to the characters. The innovative directing, a plot that is quite well in its core and a sometimes dark mood undoubtfully outweigh the negative aspects in my book. Still, not everyone might share this opinion and so it doesn't come as a surprise that this film has already been listed by a critic as one of the most underrated Korean movies of the last few years.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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