Not only is director Roh Deok’s “The Exclusive: Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” a well-crafted commentary on how information spirals out of control in today’s world of media overflow, it is also thoroughly entertaining.
The film centers on Heo Moo-hyuk (Jo Jung-suk), a television reporter who is worn out by pressure at the office and conflict at home. While suspended from work after one of his reports irks a powerful local conglomerate, Heo stumbles upon what seems to be a handwritten note drafted by a most-wanted serial killer.
Heo hurries back to the newsroom with the note, certain he has just unearthed an exclusive story that will make his career. Bureau head Baek (Lee Mi-sook) runs the story the next morning without further investigation. It causes a nationwide sensation. Ratings soar, and Heo is instantly reinstated with flare.
|Actor Jo Jung-suk portrays television reporter Heo Moo-hyuk in "The Exclusive: Beat the Devil's Tattoo" (Lotte Entertainment)|
That is when police investigator Oh (Bae Sung-woo) comes into the picture, questioning how the note -- undoubtedly an important piece of evidence -- was acquired. Baek and her newsroom, however, refuse to cooperate, conveniently citing the journalist’s right and duty to protect the source of information.
As the struggle between the police force and media continues, Heo’s “exclusive” story takes on a life of its own. It spreads, grows and mutates, until the truth becomes buried in a sea of facts and speculation. Director Roh creates a world where media reports give birth to compelling events and even create criminals, rather than the other way around -- where a small, seemingly harmless report causes a butterfly effect, resulting in dire consequences. Meanwhile, in a subplot involving his wife Soo-jin (Lee Ha-na), Heo needs to come to terms with some difficult truths in his personal life.
The film is ultimately a satire, but never too drenched in social message. It is rife with good humor and delightfully led by actor Jo Jung-suk -- who is so good at portraying the guileless common man that he renders his character instantly likable, and has the audience rooting for Heo from the very beginning, despite his flaws. Heo is by no means a scrupulous journalist or driven by a duty to deliver facts; rather, “he represents the average Korean salaryman,” as director Roh put it -- barely hanging on to his job, being tugged in different directions by various obligations and perennially sleep-deprived.
|Actress Lee Mi-sook as newsroom head Baek (Lotte Entertainment)|
|Actor Bae Sung-woo as police investigator Oh (Lotte Entertainment)|
Lee Mi-sook is pitch-perfect in her role as the jaded, charismatic newsroom head, toughened in a predominantly male environment and all too familiar with the name of the game. She acts as the ideal instrument for director Roh -- who also wrote the screenplay -- to deliver some of her most poignant one-liners on the functions of media.
Possibly the only character sincerely intent on uncovering the truth is detective Oh, played with just the right balance between authority and humor by Bae Sung-woo. But even Oh is blind in his pursuit, facing a dilemma when presented with two versions of the truth: one that is messy and unpalatable, but plausible, and another that is simple and convenient.
Director Roh explored, with uncanny honesty and humor, different types of romantic relationships in her 2013 debut film “Degree of Love.” In “The Exclusive,” she contemplates the notion of truth in not only the larger society and the media, but also at the individual level. What creates the gap between facts and reporting on facts? We are constantly choosing to believe and deny certain things, based on logic, evidence, emotion, instinct and so on. Do we simply end up believing in what we want to believe? These are some of the questions the film lingers on.
“The Exclusive” opens in local theaters on Oct. 22.
By Rumy Doo (firstname.lastname@example.org)