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Voice of a Murderer
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by Jay Seaver

"... the names have been changed to protect the innocent."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: If you look at "Voice of a Murderer" as a kidnapping thriller, then the title certainly seems to give the game away. It helps to remember that, though the names have been changed, this film is based on one of the most notorious crimes in recent Korean history, the 1991 kidnapping of Lee Hyong-ho.

For this version, the boy's name is Han Sang-woo. He's nine years old and kind of a fat kid, much to the chagrin of his mother Oh Ji-sun (Kim Nam-ju), who has him on a strict regimen of diet and exercise. Father Han Kyung-bae (Seol Kyung-gu) is a popular and respected TV news anchor, perhaps with political aspirations. One day, Sang-woo disappears. A ransom demand comes; they call the police. The police have a suspect - Lee Jae-jun (Kim Young-cheol), a former friend of Kyung-bae's who was the subject of an unflattering news story - but they're having a very hard time making anything stick.

Fans of the true crime and police procedural genres should find plenty to like about this film; there's a team of detectives on the case - notably Kim (Kang Dong-won), who stays close to Han, even hiding in the trunk of his caras he goes to deliver the ransom demands, and Cha (Go Soo-hee), who tries to puzzle out the mind of the kidnapper. Their work is an exercise in frustration, as no amount of tapping phones and surveillance seems to help catch him. Filmmaker Park Jin-pyo paints them as generally pretty good at what they do, but also manages to put a nagging doubt or two into the audience's head: The phone calls said no cops, and we find ourselves constantly re-evaluating the risk versus reward of having them there, even after we've seen that the kidnapper is not going to play fair regardless.

Of course, the frustration of the police is nothing compared to that of the parents, and Park Jin-pyo does a fine job of showing the mounting despair. We see Ji-sun become more frayed and Kyung-bae become more short tempered, most obviously demonstrated a scene where Kyung-bae rips into the people who have come from Ji-sun's church to comfort her after they use the words "God's plan" one too many times in his presence. That's the flashy one, but perhaps the best is when the kidnapper gives them instructions to leave the ransom in their car and take a nearby tram to the top of a mountain, where he says they will be reunited with Sang-woo. That scene encapsulates the story perfectly, as the characters can see everything happening in the city spread out beneath them, but find themselves unable to affect the outcome or do anything but try to tell each other it will be all right.

Kim Nam-ju and Seol Kyung-gu don't seem to do much in that scene, but they don't have to; they're utterly convincing throughout. The rest of the cast isn't bad - Kim Young-cheol is properly bitter and suspicious as the prime suspect, Kang Dong-won is fine as the cop - but it's about those two. Both their characters start out not as bad people, but as maybe being a bit full of themselves, and we watch that get peeled away, both in quick, devastating fashion and in little pieces. Seol Kyung-gu is especially good - where the mother is able to completely fall apart, that's not an option for the head of the family, and Seol walks the line between us seeing him as tormented but putting on a brave face and us seeing the brave face and being a little repelled by it.

Of course, that makes the final scenes all the more poignant, as the last of the mask completely comes down for people in both the film and the audience. At that point, it doesn't matter whether you know the real case or not - it still hits like a ton of bricks.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17643&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/26/08 16:23:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
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  DVD: 30-Mar-2010

UK
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Australia
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Directed by
  Park Jin-pyo

Written by
  Park Jin-pyo

Cast
  Sol Kyung-gu
  Kim Nam-ju
  Kang Dong-won



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