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The Murderer - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Sal-in-ja

South Korea 2013

Genre:
Thriller, Drama

Director:
Lee Gi-wook

Cast:
Ma Dong-seok
Ahn Do-gyoo
Kim Hyeon-soo
Kim Min-seo
Kim Hye-na
Hwang Eun-soo


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The Murderer

The Murderer - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Joo-hyeop (Ma Dong-seok) is a dog breeder and leads a quiet life with his son Yong-ho (Ahn Do-gyoo). Yong-ho wants to talk a little bit more with his father, but he actually wouldn't have anything to complain about if it weren't for his classmates bullying him at school. One day new girl Ji-soo (Kim Hyeon-soo) is transfered to his school and she doesn't find friends because of her reserved nature. In fact, she even deliberately keeps her distanace from others, only Yong-ho doesn't give up. He is interested in the new girl and soon the two have a special place under a bridge where they often spend time together. Ji-soo's reclusiveness is because of a trauma she suffered. A few years back she witnessed a murder which is why the murderer was just about to kill her as well when he was interrupted. When Ji-soo then takes her drunken mother home Yong-ho's father gives them a ride and that's when there is no doubt in the little girl's mind anymore. Joo-hyeop is the man who almost killed her a few years back. Yong-ho doesn't know anything about his father's past, but Joo-hyeop can't fight his lust for murder any longer now...

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Review: Granted, "The Murderer" surely won't win any award for most original film title, but apart from that, and not factoring in that the film is extremely short with a mere running time of 85 minutes, this thriller drama surprises with a captivating premise and to some extent profound drama. This is mostly thanks to two good child actors that carry the movie almost on their own. Furthermore, it's interesting that we don't get the classical dark thriller revolving around a killer, but that the human drama of the son is put into the foreground instead, a son who loves his father and yet yearns for getting closer to him a bit more - not suspecting at all that he is a murderer who even killed his mother. If that isn't a guarantee for a family crisis I don't know what is...

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You will find yourself especially surprised that the movie's focus doesn't lie on the killer himself. You easily could have made the movie something like a psychological trip into the mind of the father, but instead things revolve around the son. Not only that, his story with Ji-soo resembles a pure love story, only that the two are too young for this in a way. The friendship that unfolds between the two is at first hindered by several walls the two have surrounded themselves with. But Yong-ho is eager to tear down those of the girl since for the first time he has met someone he feels some kind of connection to. The two are bullied by their classmates and live in difficult environments so that their loneliness and longing for a normal life connects the two like an invisible thread.

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Ji-soo, very nicely played by Kim Hyeon-soo ("Silenced"), suffers from a trauma. Her gruesome experience is indirectly the result of her father and mother living apart. Her mother is an alcoholic and wants to have fun in life again, whereas she doesn't even consider Ji-soo as her source of happiness in life. Yong-ho on the other hand is quite happy with his father, even though he would like them to talk a bit more. Ahn Do-gyoo ("A Werewolf Boy") plays his inner conflict towards the end pretty convincingly, although it would have been great if the changes his character undergoes, caused by his sudden confusion and disorientation, would have gotten more room to unfold. Because towards the end things seem unnecessarily rushed.

The Murderer - Film Screenshot 7

As a drama "The Murderer" knows how to please, especially thanks to the two child actors. The colors are rather dull and the atmosphere in fact reminds you of a dark thriller at times, without the film making use of any genre clichés. The story constantly unfolds with a pleasant pacing so that there are no lengthy periods either. There are a few flashbacks every now and then which will allow you to deduce what kind of relationships the different individuals have and what kind of demons they are haunted by. The only problem, if any, is the father. He hears voices in his head that make him kill and apparently the trigger for his breakdown was his wife who cheated on him. But somehow he managed to lead a normal life again. Until now. Yong-ho's father lacks proper character development in order to really make an impression as an individual.

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At least Ma Deon-seok ("The Neighbors", "The Five") tries to give his character more depth, but despite the fact that he makes more of his role than his colleagues maybe would have attempted and although he even manages to bestow a certain tragic quality on his character that arouses our sympathy his performance falls short of our expectations. However, just at the right moments, especially during the finale, and during the more drama-heavy moments "The Murderer" manages to outdo itself, which apart from Ma is also thanks to the two child actors. But director Lee Gi-wook also proves in his debut work that he knows where his strenghts lie and that he knows how to ably make use of them. The ending may seem a bit too sudden, but "The Murderer" touches you significantly more than you would expect from a film like this. Impressive.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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