Contemporary disaster movie
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 108 mins
Directed by Park Joung-woo (박정우 | 朴正祐)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 28 July 2012, 20:30 PM (HKT)
Good, basic thrill ride that could have had much more dramatic depth. Asian and genre events, plus niche ancillary.
Seoul, autumn 2011. After a hot summer, South Korea is hit by a drought. Im Jae-hyeok (Kim Myeong-min), a onetime promising career scientist who was ruined by a stock-market investment recommended by his police detective brother Jae-pil (Kim Dong-wan), supports his wife Gyeong-sun (Mun Jeong-hui) and two young children (Eom Ji-seong, Yeom Hyeon-seo) by working for Joa Pharmaceutical selling drugs and keeping influential clients happy. Joa is now owned by a foreign-based company, BronStar, which cut back on R&D; but recently someone has been buying up Joa shares on the open market. Early one morning, a body is found in a canal that has been sucked dry of all its fat and water, and soon similar victims turn up across the country. Jae-pil is sent to Gangwon province, east of Seoul, to investigate a possible poisoned water source. The local mayor (Min Gyeong-jin), whose community survives on tourism, denies anything amiss, but next morning Jae-pil wakes to find the river full of corpses. In Seoul, a Crisis Control Centre is set up with staff from the Centre for Disease Control, including Jae-pil's scientist wife Seon Yeon-ju (Honey Lee). The cause is discovered to be a mutant variant of the parasitic horsehair worm (aka Gordian worm), which has switched from insects to humans, causing first excessive hunger and then excessive thirst. As mass madness breaks out, with people throwing themselves into any water source, Jae-hyeok finds his own family has been infected. A national health emergency is declared as over 1 million people are thought to be carrying the worms. By chance, the authorities discove that a vermicide made by Joa - Windazole - can kill the worms; but as Joa's share price starts to go through the roof, the drug has mysteriously disappeared off the market and is impossible to find.
A disaster movie centred on mass madness rather than a monster or misbehaving elements, PARK Joung-woo 박정우 | 朴正祐's local hit Deranged 연가시 is entertaining as far as it goes but could have been much more substantial if the script had developed some of its ideas. Park wrote some of the sharpest, anti-authoritarian comedies during the golden age of New Korean Cinema (Attack the Gas Station! 주유소 습격사건 (1999), Jail Breakers 광복절 특사 (2002), Break Out 라이터를 켜라 (2002), the first two directed by KIM Sang-jin 김상진 | 金相眞), as well as one of its best relationship movies (Kim's Kick the Moon 신라의 달밤 (2001)). But since becoming a director he's lost that earlier edge (Dance with the Wind 바람의 전설 (2003), Big Bang 쏜다 (2007)). That's a pity, as Deranged has plenty of potent themes (state authoritarianism, national psychosis under stress, big-business corruption) and, without the need to provide monster or other visual effects, has the time to go into them. Instead, Park opts for a fairly straightforward, thrills-to-the-fore format, lightly garnished with stuff that could have given the movie some real dramatic depth.
As it is, Deranged is a disaster movie that's driven not so much by the threat itself — basically, a water-born mutant tapeworm that drives people mad before killing them — but more by the result of that threat, i.e. mass hysteria. For a country that is still at military loggerheads with its northern neighbour, and whose society is often prone to open conflict, it's a neat idea. It's no surprise, when the bodycount starts rising 15 minutes in, the main character exclaims, "Are we at war?" And at various points the authorities either impose draconian security measures or simply bypass legality to counter the threat.
If he'd developed these themes alongside the thrills, Park could have come up with either a trenchant black comedy or a resonant drama. In the event, Deranged, after a quiet start that nicely introduces its flawed main characters, ends up as a standard, fast-paced thriller with individual heroism saving the country as the authorities are held to ransom by evil corporate forces.
As a director, Park keeps things moving with plenty of handheld and close-up camerawork, and solid performances by his largely TV drama cast (KIM Dong-wan 김동완 | 金洞完 as a flawed detective, former Miss Korea Honey LEE 이하늬 as his scientist wife, MUN Jeong-hui 문정희 | 文晶熙 as the hero's wife). As the hero himself — a onetime promising career scientist who's now a drugs salesman — KIM Myeong-min 김명민 | 金明民 (Man of Vendetta 파괴된 사나이 (2010), Detective K: Secret of Virtuous Widow 조선명탐정: 각시투구꽃의 비밀 (2011)) makes a believable, frustrated salaryman called upon to do some unbelievable things.
Smartly edited by veteran PARK Gok-ji 박곡지, and let down on the technical side only by a routine score, Deranged is basically an average genre movie boosted by an un-average budget, with its full share of unlikely coincidences, people doing stupid things and big plot holes. It's way better than CJ Entertainment Inc ＣＪ엔터테인먼트's last over-budgeted genre movie, Sector 7 ７광구 (2011), and to its credit the film avoids weepy family melodrama and keeps the plot alive with new developments and setbacks. Not so much to its credit is a strain of xenophobia and nationalism that's become more and more noticeable in South Korean cinema. The real villain here is foreign capital and its Korean-American CEO; and though the film appears to be anti-big business, it's South Korean big business that saves the day by rallying round the flag (with CJ lorries delivering the vermicide at the end).
The film's Korean title means Nematomorph (i.e. tapeworm) — the same Korean and English title of a highly regarded 15-minute short, directed by CHOI Seung-min 최승민 and premiered at the Jeonju International Film Festival 전주국제영화제 in 2007, which dealt with mysterious suicides amid the presence of water.
ContactSales: CJ E&M, Seoul (email@example.com)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 5 Jul 2012.
Presented by CJ Entertainment (SK). Produced by Ozone Film (SK), in association with CJ Entertainment. Executive producer: Jeong Tae-seong. Producer: Kim Sang-o.
Script: Park Joung-woo. Idea: Jo Dong-in, Kim Gyeong-hun. Photography: Gi Se-hun. Editing: Park Gok-ji. Music: Jo Yeong-uk. Art direction: Gang Seung-yong. Costumes: Shim Hyeon-seop. Sound: Jo U-jin, Kim Seok-won, Park Ju-gang. Action: Lee Geon-mun. Special effects: Hong Jang-pyo (Effect Storm). Visual effects: Seo Sang-hwa (Xnergy).
Cast: Kim Myeong-min (Im Jae-hyeok), Mun Jeong-hui (Gyeong-sun, his wife), Kim Dong-wan (Jae-pil, his brother), Honey Lee (Seon Yeon-ju, Jae-pil's wife), Eom Ji-seong (Jun-u, Jae-hyeok's son), Yeom Hyeon-seo (Ye-ji, Jae-hyeok's daughter), Gang Shin-il (Dr. Hwang), Jo Deok-hyeon (Tae-won), Lee Hyeong-cheol (James Kim, Joa Pharmaceutical CEO), Jeon Guk-hwan (Prime Minister), Choi Jeong-u (Health Minister), Jeong In-gi (Jae-hyeok's boss), Song Yeong-chang (Kim, director), Kim Se-dong (production head), Jo Han-cheol (Joa researcher), Min Gyeong-jin (Mayor Lee), Lee Yong-jik (local policeman), Kim Min-jae (Park, senior detective), Park Jin-taek, Kim Tae-hun (Emergency Centre officials), Gang Ji-weon (wife), Kim Seung-hun.