J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Tabloid Truth: The Rumor Mill Kills

It is downright ugly when the press and the government start colluding. When a well-connected corporation gets in on the game, it becomes a perfect storm of corruption. However, the world’s’ only honest talent manager will stand up to them in Kim Kwang-sik’s Tabloid Truth (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles and next Friday in New York.

While paying dues at a large agency, Lee Woo-gon instantly recognizes the raw talent of Choi Mi-jin, but his bosses prefer to push the questionable talent they already have under contract. Striking out on his own, Lee builds Choi’s career to the brink of superstardom. In a cruel twist of fate, a malicious rumor published in an e-newsletter for elites romantically links Choi to a much older congressman just as they start to enjoy real success. Lee struggles to control the damage, but the media has already cast its verdict. When Choi subsequently commits suicide, Lee vows to avenge her.

He starts with the e-scandal sheet, but the small staff led by Mr.Park are just lowly, resentful pawns in a much bigger game. After a rough introduction, Park and his lieutenant Miss Kim help trace to the source of rumor, eventually leading Lee to the national government’s Office of Planning and the O&C Corporation. Unfortunately, Cha Sung-joo and his private security firm seem to have the drop on the crusading manager, in a decidedly painful way.

There is definitely something Zeigeisty about the film’s portrayal of digital tabloid journalism and its obsequious relationship with government officials. The anti-corporate pivot is rather predictable and overplayed, but the film sort of lives in a paranoid place where Tea Party alarmism and Occupy thuggery intersect.

Tabloid is only Kim’s second feature as a director and his first crack at the thriller genre, but he shows a real command of pacing. Shrewdly, Lee is portrayed as a tough customer, but not a superman by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the film gets a lot of mileage out of the savage beatdowns he endures, out of sheer hard-headedness. Still, the chemistry shown in early scenes and flashbacks between Kim Kang-woo’s Lee and Ko Won-hee’s Choi is surprisingly touching.

Those familiar with Koran cinema will also recognize a host of familiar faces amongst the supporting cast, especially Ko Chang-seok (from Quick, Hello Ghost, etc), who supplies comic relief as Baek Moon, Mr. Park’s surveillance specialist, but keeps the shtick relatively restrained. Park Sung-woong is also effectively cold-blooded and serpentine as the ruthless Mr. Cha, whereas Jeong Jin-yeong convincingly plays Mr. Park as a man of somewhat more years and considerably more mileage.

Without question, Tabloid successfully taps into people’s frustration with all things big and overly collegial. Nevertheless, its thriller mechanics work to the extent they do because of the very human foundation laid down by the cast, particularly Kim Kang-woo and Ko Won-hee. Recommended on the basis of their work rather than any potential socio-economic implications, Tabloid Truth opens tomorrow (3/7) in Los Angeles at the CGV Cinemas and next Friday (3/14) in New York (Flushing) at the AMC Bay Terrace.

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