Bluebeard (2017): Introduction to Korean movies

Bluebeard (2017): Introduction to Korean movies
# Cho Jin-Woong #해빙 #조진웅 #KoreanMovies #KoreanCinema # KimDaeMyung # Shin Goo # LeeChungAh #Review #KoreanMovies

The Title
“Bluebeard” (2017) is a thriller movie starring actor Cho Jin-Woong. You would have seen this actor in movies such as “The Hunt” (2016), “The Handmaiden” (2016), and “Assassination” (2015). While a prolific and known actor, he usually plays supporting roles. This would be the first time he has been cast as the lead in a major movie that I know of. The English title is on the nose compared to the Korean title --- can be translated as “released from melting ice”. I’m biased towards the Korean title just because the “Bluebeard” is not really representative of the movie.

"Bluebeard… is a French folktale…The tale tells the story of a wealthy violent man in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors.
Cho Jin-Woong
The plot
The plot of “Bluebeard” (2017) centers around Cho Jin-Woong’s character ---a recently divorced doctor --- as he settles into a new job in a new town ---made famous by a serial killer decades ago ---after his private practice failed. He is defeated and depressed. More and more, he is becoming antisocial. One day, the father of his landlord --- a butcher shop owner; landlord I mean….his father has dementia ---- comes in for an Endoscope procedure and starts talking about body parts in the fridge under anesthesia. This capture the attention and imagination of the doctor merging with the history of the town; and we are out of the gates in the twisted tale of murder, tragedy, and craziness. So, common thriller territory. But is it?

Personality disorder
“Bluebeard” (2017) is a thriller movie that has a personality disorder. I’m not referring to the characters in the movie. Well, it can be but not the point I’m making. The movie cannot decide whether it wants to be a “serial killer” psychological thriller or an “exploration of damaged psyche” type of drama. Thus, it tries to be both by giving each part reasonable amount of time to develop. It is not like “American Psycho” (2000) which starts out as “serial killer” psychological thriller and ends up turning into an “exploration of damaged psyche” type of drama right at the end. This imbalance makes it work. The same principle applies here resulting in opposite outcomes. “Bluebeard” (2017) gets lost somewhere in transit.

The unreliable narrator
In trying to be both, “Bluebeard” (2017) leans heavily on the “unreliable narrator” and “M. Night Shyamalan” twists. What I mean by “unreliable narrator” is the case of what the movie shows its audience is not a true representation of what is actually going on in the story. While the “unreliable narrator” approach can be interesting, it has to be implemented with care. If not, this just ends up confusing the audience regarding what this story is about and who the protagonist is rather than adding to their suspense.

“Bluebeard” (2017) handles the “unreliable narrator” approach not very well. First, you don’t really care about the outcome of the protagonists as you never get a sense of the character other than something odd is being shown to you. This is not helped by the fact that actor Cho Jin-Woong doesn’t have an interesting enough screen presence to hold the audience’s interest on his seer charisma alone as an actor. Second, it just ends up shifting focus to the protagonist –-- not because the character is interesting but because his behavior contradicts the context --- which is not a positive for a thriller. The protagonist in a thriller reacts to the source of suspense rather than creating the suspense. By shifting focus away from the events around the protagonist in a thriller and putting the light on the protagonist reacting to the events very weirdly, the audience gets confused.  

Night Shyamalan
Then a twist happens and moves into the reveal phase of the movie! This informs the audience that the movie is a “gatcha! I tricked you!” movie. Examples would be “Heist” movies. However, it goes too in-depth and long with it. The movie spends an extensive time on showing how the movie was misdirecting the audience like an eager 10 year old with a second hand magic set. Even “Heist” movies spend less time on their reveals by using montage techniques. This is a problem as the movie once again misinforms the audience that this is a movie all about the twist and the story is over. The audience keeps thinking “is the movie over?” as this is like a climax being dragged out.

Nothing behind the mirror
But “Bluebeard” (2017) isn’t one of those “gatcha! I tricked you!” movies --- at least I think it isn’t--- that are all about the skill in misdirection. Thus, there is still another part of the story to be told by which I mean the thesis of this movie. What was previously shown was just setup to tell the story of the social deterioration of the upper middle class married Korean male. “Bluebeard” (2017) uses the common “serial killer” psychological thriller as a foundation to highlight a social issue albeit in a pulpy way. This is the same approach done by other more successful movies. However, in “Bluebeard” (2017), this transition never really worked well enough to make that leap successful. It gets over indulgent in showing how the magician did his magic tricks. Thus, loses impact. This issue is further aggravated with additional twists that undercut the thesis of the movie for no reason; shifts it back to common psychological thriller territory. So, at the end of the movie, the point seems to be get lost in the smoke of Night Shyamalan driving away in a stolen Cadillac.

This is a shame since the craftsmanship put into the movie is decent or at least journeyman level. No one behind the camera is outright terrible in their given professions. The cast is decent in their acting even though nothing arise to be exceptional. This applies to Actor Cho Jin-Woong’s performance too. Personally, what interested me is the thesis of the movie. It is not a social issue that comes up much in Korean movies but is becoming more of an issue in society overall. And it should be talked more in the open even in a pop culture manner. “A Single Rider” (2017), which was released basically at the same time as “Bluebeard” (2017), deals with the same subject but in very different manners; melodramatic!

From movie examples such as “Fight Club” (1999) and “American Psycho” (2000), you could see that, when dealt well, the “Bluebeard” (2017) approach carries more impact and last longer in the public mindset. “Bluebeard” (2017) fail to reach its potential. Even with its issues, “A Single Rider” (2017) comes off at least more memorable. Overall, the resulting movie ---“Bluebeard” (2017) --- is disappointing as a whole. However, it is not a bad time to sit in the theater for 2 hours if you like the genre. 

“A Single Rider” (2017)
“Fight Club” (1999)
“American Psycho” (2000)


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