It’s exhilarating to see a woman director like Lee Soo-Youn joining South Korea’s distinctive and stylistically rich neo-noir school of filmmaking. Bluebeard draws from predecessors like Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy, as well as Western mind-game players like David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, to spin a tight tale of paranoia and conspiracy, thought-provokingly set amid the upheavals global-warming and surveillance state technology have wrought on South Korean life. (GPG: 4.5/5)
Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
"Seung-Hoon" (Jin-Woong Jo) is a lonely, divorced doctor who has just moved to a poor, rural province to work at the only medical practice in the area. He soon learns the area has been plagued for decades by a string of unsolved serial killings, which doesn’t bother him much—until his landlord, under anesthesia for a colonoscopy, starts talking in his sleep about hiding dead bodies, describing methods much like those of the local serial killer’s.
As Seung-Hoon tentatively investigates his landlord, who runs the butcher shop beneath his apartment, his landlord’s son starts trying to befriend him. The son may or may not know about the murders his father may or may not have been committing for the past thirty years, so Seung-Hoon is wary of getting close to him. Seung-Hoon must also fend off his ex-wife, who he is having child custody disputes with—that is, until she disappears shortly after leaving his apartment late at night.
This begins a chase where Seung-Hoon seems to be pursuing as often as he seems pursued. While I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending, I can say without giving too much away, that Bluebeard’s conclusion is a bait-and-switch that leaves everything resolved.
The camerawork is purposeful and grittily poetic, grabbing the audience’s attention with every frame. I particularly enjoyed how Bluebeard plays with hiding and revealing faces, having a character walk through shadow or move in and out of focus over the course of a line to create suspense. The art direction was also noteworthy, especially in Seung-Hoon’s cramped and disorganized one-room apartment, which often serves as a mirror into Seung-Hoon’s mind. The extremely strong visuals are a major reason why Bluebeard works as well as it does; they set each moment’s tone so vividly that the film is able to gracefully walk the line between absurd comedy and surreal terror without a misstep.
As we approach Fight Club’s twentieth birthday, the “unreliable-narrator thriller” genre often feels played out, but Bluebeard satisfies and impresses with its revitalization of well-trodden narrative ground. Highly recommended!
© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (3/22/17)
Top photo: Dr. Seung-Hoon.
Middle photo: Seung-Hoon investigates his landlord.
Bottom photo: Seung-Hoon breaks into his landlord's butcher shop.
Photo credit: Pan Media & Entertainment
Q: Does Bluebeard pass the Bechdel test?
All the scenes are about Seung-Hoon. Even scenes where the two nurses at his clinic are hanging out revolve around their opinions of him, or their boyfriends.