by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: There's a standard way of subtitling the cast and crew's names when Asian films come to the US from cultures where the family name comes first, whether official or not: Capitalized family name, followed by the given name, generally hyphenated for Korean and Chinese names. So, the director of "Seven Days" would appear as "WON Shin-Yeon". I was amused by the exception made here, where "Yunjin KIM" appeared instead of "KIM Yun-Jin", as if to make sure that audiences recognized that, yes, this is the same actress that appears on "Lost". I don't know whether that will get more Americans to see this decent (if occasionally grisly and convoluted) crime thriller, but I suppose it can't hurt.Ms. Kim plays Yoo Ji-yeon, a top Souel defense attorney, though one who seems to be fairly mercenary about who she takes as clients: We see her getting gangster Yang Chang-gu (Oh Kwang-rok) off and refusing to take the case of Kim Sung-yol (Park Hie-sun), a mildly corrupt cop who is an old friend. She is not going to have much choice about her next case, though - her beloved young daughter Eun is kidnapped, and a voice on the phone informs Ji-yeon that she will be killed unless she gets convicted murder Cheong Cheol-jin (Choi Myeong-su) freed - and his appeal is being heard in one week exactly.
"Other countries have legal thrillers of questionable authenticity, too!"
Seven Days is the sort of thriller that, were it set in America, would likely seem absolutely absurd, and I half-suspect that folks with some knowledge of the Korean legal system are amused: It will obsess over the minutia of legal procedure in one scene and then have the same characters doing something reckless and unethical in the next. Nearly every crime movie standard is used at some point. That's not wholly a bad thing, though - Won and co-writer Yun Je-gu manage to make an entertaining stew by throwing all the ingredients in, turning up the heat, and stirring rapidly. Each scene may be crazier than the last, but this movie is never boring, and the story does wind up hanging together well enough. It's downright clever at times; the dual-mystery structure is, at the very least, worth ripping off, and the twist that connects Eun's kidnapping and Jang Hye-jin's murder is actually pretty nifty.
It's a very busy movie because of that. There's a half-dozen or so moving parts to keep track of between witnesses, old and new boyfriends, low lives with friends in high places, characters from the beginning of the movie pressed into action toward the end, and so on, so the audience will want to be paying attention. Won sometimes overcooks things, though, with titles indicating how many days are remaining, filters, and sometimes choppy editing. The details of the crimes are fairly graphic, including the inevitable exhumations and trips to the coroner's office. For all this, though, the big scene that the movie is counting down to - Cheong's day in court with Yoo defending him - is something of a letdown, much less dramatic and revelatory than the scenes around it.
Kim Yun-jin does pretty well as Yoo - at one point or another, all the characters wind up sharing scenes with her, and while some of the early bits establishing her bona fides as a cutthroat attorney during working hours but a devoted single mother after are a little over-done, we buy her anguish and stress during the rest of the movie. She's part of a fairly nice cast: Kim Mi-suk as the mother of the victim and Park Hie-sun as the cop Yoo pulls in to help investigate are particularly enjoyable: Kim Mi-suk is given pretty simple outrage, but the purity of the emotion is good, while Park is able to vary the intensity nicely without actually making his Det. Kim into comic relief. Everyone else, of course, is not to be trusted, and the cast manages to sell them as part of the mystery without tipping their hands too much."Seven Days" would, I'm sure, benefit a bit by dialing some things down a notch. It's everything and the kitchen sink plot can be exhausting after a couple hours, but it does admittedly keep things exciting.
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originally posted: 09/23/08 16:23:32