Film and drama director Jang Jin is versatile. He knows how to make dramas that are commercially successful, and these days his artistic energy is focused on making equally marketable films. "The Big Scene," to be released nationwide today, is a case in point.
The movie is not a Korean blockbuster. Nor does it have any special effect or eye-popping action scenes that can differ from other mainstream movies. Yet it stands out largely because of its intricate and intriguing storytelling that captures the imagination of the audience.
The fifth feature film by director Jang starts with a plausible murder case. A beautiful copyrighter named Jung Yoo-jung is found brutally murdered in a posh hotel room in Seoul, and police arrest the suspect, Kim Young-hoon (Shin Ha-kyun), near the hotel.
<**1>Prosecutor Choi Yeon-hee (Cha Seung-won), known for his ruthless and relentless ability to nab criminals, takes up the case and interrogates Kim. But it`s not a usual homicide case - a local TV station decides to broadcast the entire process live for 48 hours.
With a campy take on the ratings-obsessed media a la "The Truman Show," director Jang steers the storyline in a way that defies expectations, faithful to the "whodunit" genre.
First, it turns out that the prime suspect Kim may not be the murderer. Although his attitude is far from normal, a lie detector clears him of the murder charge. Prosecutor Choi and Kim confront each other in a small interrogation room, whose details are broadcast via a hidden camera all over the nation.
The showdown in the small space showcases director Jang`s skewered sense of humor. Prosecutor Choi orders Kim to use only subject and verb when answering his questions. "I understand," Kim says. "Why did you bring the oil box?" Choi asks. "I tried to set fire," Kim says. "That`s not the subject-verb format!" the prosecutor screams, pounding the desk and keeping his deadly serious manner. "I`m difficult," Kim murmurs. "What?" the prosecutor says, still scowling. "The subject-verb format is difficult," Kim says meekly, following the rule set by the prosecutor.
Yes, it`s not that side-splitting a scene, and the two famous actors are not going overboard, either. But somehow the awkward situation and twisted dialogues tend to generate laughter - perhaps from both the fictional TV viewers of the live program and the real moviegoers of this cleverly-made film.
Prosecutor Choi is struggling to find a breakthrough, but his longtime rival, prosecutor Sung Joon (Ryu Seung-yong), seems to be a step ahead of him. The conflict intensifies as the two race to find the real culprit.
But the TV station staff members are not satisfied with the case. They want more sensational developments in the case to raise ratings further and embrace the idea of using a shamanistic ritual to call upon the dead spirit of the late copyrighter. As expected, something unexpected happens when a shaman summons the soul.
The movie`s strength is chiefly drawn from the solid scenario based on director Jang`s own drama. And Cha Seung-won`s acting also shines throughout the film, particularly when he takes a serious posture and threatens suspects in a manner that seems eerily authentic and yet inevitably hilarious.
Shin Ha-kyun also proves his talented ability to blend himself into a role smoothly, playing a troubled suspect in a way that raises the overall tension in the detective story.
A bulk of the scenes in the film have been shot in a large studio set located in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. Although the set limits the space, cameras move freely thanks to the new equipment called "SpyderCam." While characters get into the conflict-laden plot, the SpyderCam system zooms in on their facial - and by extension psychological - expressions in detail.
Despite the respectable filmmaking level in "The Big Scene," the question remains: Director Jang`s films based on his own dramas have been largely successful, but what will happen if his drama-to-be-film repertoire finally runs out?
By Yang Sung-jin