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True Fiction
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by Jay Seaver

"Too many twists, but that's better than too few."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The hardest part of writing this sort of thriller must be hitting the point where you feel like there's enough, the point where paying attention has been rewarded but where the audience has not yet said "screw this latest reversal, it doesn't matter, because none of what we've been told matters!" "True Fiction" unfortunately blows way past that second point in its last act, although by then it's established strength enough that it can avoid losing some.

It starts with Lee Kyung-suk (Oh Man-seok), an unassuming-looking guy who has been tapped by the local political machine as the next mayor of Daechung, an he certainly seems to fit the part: Young, telegenic, a loyal party member, married to novelist Yeom Ji-eun (Jo Eun-ji), who just happens to be the daughter of Senator Yeom Jung-gil (Kim Hak-cheol). It's Jung-gil who tasks him with transporting some money to the senator's lake house, which should be easy enough, except that he decides to make it a sort of working vacation by taking mistress Lee Ji-young (Lee Na-ra) along in his wife's car, and being distracted enough to hit a dog on the way. The dog, it turns out, belongs to Kim Soon-tae (Ji Hyun-woo), who introduces himself as the property's caretaker, demanding restitution on top of making it more difficult to carry out Kyung-suk's original job.

The first half of the movie is delightful, a rapid-fire series of selfish decisions blowing up combined with the delight of someone having got one over on people who really deserve a comeuppance. It's just as fun as it is suspenseful, serving up a satisfying slow burn that promises an enjoyable explosion. The soundtrack is playful, the audience feels like things are on their level, and what happens next could be anything for human reasons; you can see people trying to figure out how to get up on the other guy. Writer/director Kim Jin-mook gets a constant string of laughs, and if you maybe sneer a bit while giggling, it's okay Kyung-suk deserves it.

Oh Man-seok does a lot of the heavy lifting here, making Kyung-suk an entertaining anti-hero even though his early scenes take him from a youthful blank slate to corrupt rather quickly. Oh knows how to project a politician's confidence that convinces an audience that he feels the world working against him just the way that they do but makes them wave away that it's self-inflicted and the result of doing crappy things, get laughs out of being boxed in, even as he's showing less innocent-seeming frustration by steps. He's got a lot of what initially seem like simpler foils to work against - Lee Na-ra does the whole mistress who seems nice other than the whole bit where she sleeps with her college friend's husband thing well, while Jo Eun-ji is perfectly bitchy as said former friend. Ji Hyun-woo spends the first half of the movie quietly sinister as Soon-tae, director Kim leaving the character mysterious enough to be interesting until another layer or two of cunning can be revealed, when Ji gets to go to town.

That's fun for a while; Ji has been waiting for the chance to grab a more central position in the movie, and both he and the other supporting characters who have popped up along the way know what to do with it. Unfortunately, Kim doesn't seem to know when to stop as a writer (and having allegedly based this on a real case isn't that entirely an excuse). It's not just that by the end, so many lies have been revealed and so much backstory has been piled on that the puzzle has too many pieces and no way to wrap it up in a satisfying way, although that's an issue; it's that the righteous nastiness that gets the audience to dive in emotionally is replaced with calculating and casual cruelty. Instead of enjoying the double-crosses and petty vengeance, one has to form a sort of detached admiration for the planning but to do that, the viewer has to let go of what has carried them through the movie so far - and if they have to do that enough, they start to wonder what the point of it is.

There's a certain impressive fatalism to that, perhaps, but by the time the movie gets there, it's not just a downer, but it's petering out after the first half had shown such energy. An improvised caper, it turns out, is often much more fun than a meticulously-planned one, especially if it ends when the audience feels everyone has done enough.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32464&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/22/18 10:39:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Jin-muk Kim

Written by
  Jin-muk Kim

  Hyun-woo Ji
  Man-seok Oh
  Eun-woo Lee
  Hak-chul Kim
  Eun-Ji Jo

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