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The Case of Itaewon Homicide - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Itaewon Salinsageon

South Korea 2009

Crime, Thriller

Hong Ki-seon

Jeong Jin-yeong
Jang Geun-seok
Sin Seung-hwan
Ko Chang-seok
Oh Kwang-rok
Kim Joong-ki

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The Case of Itaewon Homicide

aka Where the Truth Lies

Story: Prosecutor Park (Jeong Jin-yeong) is confronted with a difficult case. A student has been brutally knifed down in the restroom of a restaurant. Soon a suspect is found. Pearson (Jang Geun-seok), the son of an American soldier, is interrogated by Park since he has been seen entering the restroom. At first he seems to admit having committed the murder, but then his friend Alex (Sin Seung-hwan) turns up as a witness and accuses him as the culprit, too. Pearson changes his testimony and says that he didn't kill anybody, but was put under pressure by the police to confess the crime. Moreover, he had difficulties during the interrogation because of the language barrier. He now accuses Alex to have committed the murder. In fact both young men have been seen entering the restroom. Since the testimonies of both suspects and that of several witnesses are inconsistent with one another and to make matters worse the US Army investigators have already cleaned the crime scene Park has to try finding evidence some other way. Soon it seems obvious that Alex is the killer after all, but yet not all puzzle pieces fit together.

Review: Thrillers in which an actual crime is reprocessed for an audience aren't rare in Korea. "Unbowed" and "Memories of Murder" instantly come to mind, but "The Case of Itaewon Homicide" stands as a surprisingly unpretentious crime thriller. If you want to phrase it more unforgiving you could even say that it is unspectacular. But in the end this also helps the movie to get an especially realistic touch thanks to which the drama manages to work without any cinematic gimmicks, based solely on the facts of this case. Unfortunately, you can't deny that the movie also has the conspicuous charm of a TV production. Accordingly, the thriller doesn't really manage to be more than average.

The Case of Itaewon Homicide - Film Screenshot 11

A big problem is the at times a bit amateurish directing of Hong Ki-seon. On several occasions the camera moves close to the face of an individual just to leave it without a single cut and put another character into the focus. If this was on purpose, aiming at creating a certain emulation of a documentary maybe, then this was a good idea, but not one that was realized well. That it doesn't always need to be a polished look and that the grainy pictures remind us of a film from fifteen years ago is a welcome change, though, even the more as it also pins down the time when the case actually took place. All in all the thriller also sticks to facts, which actually also leads to the film getting a bit tiresome for those who are familiar with the case.

The Case of Itaewon Homicide - Film Screenshot 12

For everyone else the ending will come as a surprise as you most likely won't have expected how things will turn out. What's so fascinating about the story is the mysteriousness of the two protagonists. There is something wrong about the testimonies of both individuals, they constantly change them and accuse each other so that it remains unclear who of them is the actual killer after all. It seems that both of them would be capable even though the prosecutor eventually believes to have found the culprit. Jang Geun-seok, known from the horrible Do Re Mi Fa So La Si Do, portrays a mysterious character while Sin Seung-hwan plays the more extroverted guy which at times makes him degenerate into cliché. Jang Geun-seok's English skills are quite passable, but Sin lacks them on several occasions.

Which brings us to the language. Depicting Americans the English spoken by the two protagonists is not convincing and there is a lot of English used in the film. At first an interpreter helps to overcome the language barrier, but at some point he isn't present anymore and the detective keeps talking in Korean while the suspect speaks English. No one should be able to understand the other and accordingly it is supposedly implied that the interpreter is still present but has just been cut out of the finished movie. An odd move by the filmmakers. Furthermore, and this shouldn't come as a surprise, a few of the supporting roles have been cast with amateur actors who know English. This occasionaly makes "The Case of Itaewon Homicide" go into tailspin, even the more as half of what is said consists of the "f-word". And this although American youth slang has a lot more to offer than that...

The Case of Itaewon Homicide - Film Screenshot 13

Jeong Jin-yeong ("The King and the Clown", "Wild Card") embodies the prosecutor and has the thankless task to play the appealing figure. He can't succeed in doing so since his character is way too sketchily written and we only get to see a little bit of his private life in a few short scenes. Instead he is collecting evidence and listening to testimonies in a quiet/dogged way. A lot is told in flashbacks which differ in details depending on who is the narrator. This may be suspenseful, there is also new stuff on a constant basis, but from a certain point onwards it also gets lengthy, especially in the courtroom scenes. "The Case of Itaewon Homicide" often drags on the way some neat evening entertainment does, but at the end it actually manages - thanks to a fundament built on a real case - to touch you a bit.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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