J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Fantasia ’14: The Fives

Life is cheap, organs are expense. That is the principle driving a woman with a rare blood type and her quest for payback. She is willing to pay quite dearly to avenge her husband and daughter, offering her organs as a reward in Jeong Yeon-shik’s The Fives (trailer here), which screened during the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Go Eun-a was once a strict mother and somewhat scoldish wife. Tragically, her life turned upside-down when her pre-teen daughter Ga-yeong recognized an older fellow music student with her so-called “Uncle,” serial killer Oh Jae-uk. After dispensing with his intended victim, Oh tracks down the family, brutally murdering Ga-yeong and her father. However, the mother survives, destined to spend the rest of her days confined to a wheelchair.

Knowing her doctor coveted her heart for his ailing daughter, she strikes a dire bargain: find four other patients or family members with specialized skills to help her track, capture, and execute her family’s murderer in exchange for what they need. It will be deeply-indebted police technician Park Jeong-ha’s job to ferret him out online, engineer-thief Nam-cheol to shadow and verify, former gangster Jang Dae-ho to be the muscle, and the shifty doc will perform their promised transplants. Of course, their undertaking gets considerably more complicated when Oh starts hunting his hunters.

The Fives represents a bit of Korean cinema history as the first film adaptation of a web comic directed by its original creator. Nevertheless, the dark tale of revenge and moral angst follows in a long tradition of Korean thrillers, including recently Lee Jung-ho’s Broken and Kim Kwang-sik’s Tabloid Truth. While The Five is not as emotionally resonant as Broken, it is tough to match its pitch black heart.

Yet, in its way, Fives is more sympathetic in its treatment of Evangelicals, particularly Hye-jin the volunteer trying to minister to Go, than most recent Korean imports. Oh, the metrosexual hipster artist, is also the sort of serial killer you are not likely to see in a Hollywood thriller anytime soon. It is sort of like watching the evil twin of quirky indie comedy—exceptionally evil.

Kim Sun-a is all kinds of intense as Go, while Park Hyo-joo is truly heartbreaking as Hye-jin. Ma Dong-seok, Shin Jung-keun, Lee Chung-ah nicely flesh out Jang, Na-cheol, and Park, giving them an identity beyond their plot function. However, Jung In-gi’s craven sawbones is a bit cringy. Oddly, On Joo-wan is so spectral-like as Oh, it is hard to render a full judgment on his work.

Even though Go has a highly cinematic talent for lethal Rube Goldberg constructions, The Fives is pretty down to earth by the standards of the genre. Jeong clearly prefers to keep the action up-close-and-personal rather than mount extravagant spectacles. He keeps viewers looked in, even though its bleak portrayal of human nature is exhausting. Recommended for fans of vigilante and serial killer movies, The Fives is likely to develop legs following its Canadian premiere at this year’s Fantasia, which wraps up today (8/7) with screenings of the ridiculously entertaining Zombeavers and the devastating Han Gong-ju.

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