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[Herald Review] ‘The Villagers’ has heart, could use more thrill

“The Villagers,” an upcoming action thriller directed by Im Jin-sun, has an interesting premise, a promising set-up, good acting and a strong first act -- but maybe not enough thrill, and bit of a letdown in the third act.

The film starts off with former boxing coach Yeok Gi-cheol -- Ma Dong-seok -- getting a job as a physical education teacher in a rural town. There he meets Kang Yoo-jin -- Kim Sae-ron -- a high-school student with an attitude seeking a friend who has gone missing, and Ji Sung, a fellow teacher played by Lee Sang-yeob, who mostly keeps to himself.
The Villagers (Little Big Pictures)
The Villagers (Little Big Pictures)

Gi-cheol soon finds out that Yoo-jin is the only one who seems to care about her missing friend -- the villagers are strangely indifferent to the teenager’s disappearance.

The premise is a thought-provoking one: the mix of exclusivism and bystander mentality that allows a rural town to operate by its own set of peculiar rules. The buildup in the first act is suspenseful enough, buoyed by good acting all around.

Ma is an actor with a small range who, nevertheless, functions brilliantly within that range. The director is right on in utilizing Ma’s image -- so well known among Korean moviegoers -- which is by-the-books but still works. Kim Sae-ron, as always, is a gem with natural acting that stands out, but does not distract the viewers.

Talking about other characters runs the risk of a major spoiler, as some are suspects, but let’s say that there are no weak links in the cast. 

The Villagers (Little Big Pictures)
The Villagers (Little Big Pictures)

As a thriller, however, “The Villagers” has some structural flaws.

The action is good, but the story is too linear. For a thriller with a supposed element of mystery, it is way too easy to follow. As a result, the characters, while well-acted, are pretty one-dimensional.

Gi-cheol is a character whose actions provide catharsis to viewers; his very presence is a comeuppance for the bad guys. But this sucks out the tension in a way, which hurts the thriller.

Another issue is that the truth is too simple and predictable -- which is not bad per se, but comes as bit of a letdown after such a strong buildup.

Overall, “The Villagers” is a well-acted, passably directed action flick with heart, but not one with much of a twist or thrill.

“The Villagers” opens in theaters Nov. 7.

By Yoon Min-sik (