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Original Title:
Deo ge-im

South Korea 2008


Yun In-ho

Shin Ha-kyun
Byun Hee-Bong
Lee Hye-yeong
Son Hyeon-joo
Jang Hang-Seon
Chu Sang-rok
Jo Cheong-ho
Kim Hyeok-i
Maeng Bong-hak

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The Game

aka The Devil's Game

Story: Min Hee-do (Shin Ha-kyun) is a young struggling artist who paints portraits in the pedestian area. He is happy with his girlfriend Eun-ah (Eun-Seong) but poor. One day he gets a strange phone call from the billionaire Noh-Shik (Byun Hee-Bong). Shortly after that the billionaire's wife stands on his doorstep and wants him to follow her to her husband. Hee-do agrees and meets the fatally ill billionaire who hasn't much time left. No-shik puts forward a proposal for the young man and that is to play a game with him. They will dial a random number and have each to decide if they think a male or female person is going to pick up. The one who guesses right wins. No-shik promises a million dollar as a reward, however, Hee-do has to bet his body in return. Since Hee-do's girlfriend is being harassed by loan sharks and has an enormous amount of debt he agrees to the deal. But Hee-do loses the game and has to find out what kind of sick game he really got himself into. No-shik's brain is being transplanted into Hee-do's body and Hee-doo wakes up in the dying body of No-shik...

Review: It's actually pretty simply. Whether you like "The Game" first of all depends on whether you can live with the initial premise. Firstly, Hee-do isn't by far portrayed as such a desperate individual that he would put his body on the line. But aside the logical plot holes of the screenplay, which comes along with several flaws anyway that I will going into in a bit more detailed manner later on, the fact that a brain is being transplanted is what is extremely bothering! It may be true that some day it might be possible, even though this would be an incredibly complex surgery that goes hand in hand with thousands of different factors which could make the operation a failure, but it's nothing that can be done in the near future and surely not today. The movie's parallels to John Woo's "Face Off" are obvious, but Woo's premise stood out with the fact that it somehow seemed possible to transplant a face. And what do you know, today it really is done. But "The Game" builds its story on a foundation that kept being ridiculous for me all the way through which also didn't make the rest work out for me. And this even though I'm absolutely willing to accept an outrageous explanation in return for getting a good movie.

At least the film has Shin Ha-kyun ("JSA", "No Mercy for the Rude") in it, a somehow still underrated actor that manages to give the movie more character. Alongside him, or as the antagonist I should say, we get to see Byun Hee-Bong ("The Host") who often took supporting roles and this time stands in the foreground of a big production for the first time. He and Shin deliver great performances and the supporting actors like Eun-Seong as Hee-do's girlfriend can be convincing as well even though her character remains rather shallow. In other words the characters have charm but all of that doesn't help to fill the incredible gaps of the script. For instance there is the big change of character Hee-do undergoes which the viewer instantly realizes, also thanks to Ha-kyun's well achieved acting, but his girlfriend doesn't notice anything at all, instead the obvious has to be pointed out to her! What kind of a girlfriend is that one has to ask. And how did anyone come up with the idea of selling the audience such a nonsense?

Sadly, this list could be continued forever but one of the biggest problems is the screenplay's lack of focus. After the brains have been switched No-shik, resp. former Hee-do, is trapped in a numbness of inactivity. And the only idea that comes to his mind after that is the most apparent one and worse than that it is even awfully ill-advised. You would think that the billionaire is keeping an eye on him in case that he suddenly wants to take on his identity, wouldn't you? Yet No-shik doesn't come to that conclusion and so disaster takes its course. We actually can't have any pity for the poor old man since he really doesn't deserve anything better than what awaits him with that much thoughtlessness he displays. Why exactly he later on even wants to play for another time and why the billionaire in fact agrees to it also remains pretty questionable.

During the preparation for the "big plan" there is constantly some odd playfulness of the screenplay coming to the foreground. What I mean by that is that the serious subject of the movie, no matter how ridiculous the premise may be in its core, is every now and then supposed to be brightened up by some strange humouristic passages that are also underlined by a soundtrack of the same kind. Which direction this is exactly supposed to take only the director might know. Anyway, it just doesn't fit into the rest that the movie takes the luxury to brighten up the atmosphere. However, the worst part is the ending. Seldomly you get to see a more frustrating ending than here. Personally, I have no problem with the "actual" ending even though it might not be to everyone's taste, but what we get to see during the last minutes, a twist at the last minute so to speak, feels incredibly forced. This twist may be supposed to be shocking and make you think about the story, but in fact it just manages to make us roll our eyes as the screenplay never created any groundwork for the twist, which makes the ending incredibly cheap.

What the movie actually has to do with its title? Not much really, apart from the one game that is. Yes, money corrupts, greed doesn't lead to anything good, but all of that you can see in a more multilayered and interesting fashion with the same subject of games or gambling as in the anime adaption "Kaiji" not to mention the anime itself. "The Game" is a lavishly produced movie with good actors which, however, have to deal with characters that undergo no development at all. The script is exceptionally holey and almost in its initial untreated form. Here a lot of work still needed to be done. This leads to "The Game" being neither thrilling nor captivating, we don't care about the characters, the premise is ridiculous and towards the end everything gets even worse. At least the thriller manages to entertain for most part, thanks to the two main actors, to the degree that you don't want to switch off at once. Who knows, there might something good be waiting for us after all. Unfortunately, that proves to be simple wishful thinking.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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