J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, July 05, 2019

NYAFF ’19: Dark Figure of Crime


In criminal prosecutions, confessions often are not worth the paper the are scrawled on. That is especially true of the seven murders Kang Tae-oh kind-of sort-of cops to. He will give world weary police detective Kim Hyung-min just enough information to keep him hooked in Kim Tae-gyoon’s Dark Figure of Crime, which screens during the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival.

Kim first met Kang when they were introduced by one of his narco informants. Shortly thereafter, homicide busted Kang for the murder of his girlfriend, for which he is quickly convicted. A few months later, Kang contacts Kim. Even though he works narcotics, the upper-middle class Kim is willing to throw around a little of his own money for a good lead. In return for prison spending money, Kang offers up seven vague murder confessions, including the one he is already doing time for.

Even though Kim knows he is being played, the details are just too specific for him to ignore. He desperately follows each lead, understanding each failure will damage the credibility of the police and the prosecution during Kang’s appeal. However, he cannot walk away, especially after meeting the still grieving grandmother of Kang’s fourth victim—or so Kim deduces.

Loosely based on a true story, Dark Figure gives the prison-confession thriller a darkly sinister twist. Kang is an evil, irredeemably nasty piece of work, but the cat-and-mouse game he plays with Kim is definitely new and different. Ju Ji-hoon just radiates malevolent bad vibes as Kang, Kim Yoon-seok is the real star of the film, as Det. Kim Hyung-min. It is rather unusual (and somewhat refreshing) to meet a movie copper who is reasonably well-healed (even bourgeoise). In fact, that is why Kim is able to take more professional risks. Regardless, Kim’s performance is terrific, tempering righteous outrage with understated grit and fatalism.

We have said it before and Dark Figure proves it once again: Korean cinema has a dramatic comparative advantage when it comes to serial killer movies. Kim Tae-Gyoon’s style is not particularly flashy, but he has a talent for building suspense out of distinctive characters and situations. Very highly recommended, Dark Figure of Crime screens tomorrow (7/6), as part of this year’s NYAFF.

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