Not one, but two serial killers stalk the streets of the ironically titled “Our Town,” a twisted little genre-bender in which the danse macabre plays out as much between the sickos as with the cop hunting them down. More psychological than procedural, and more of a whydunit than a whodunit, this emotionally claustrophobic first feature by helmer Jeong Gil-yeong did poorly on local release late last year but is definitely worth a look-see by Asiaphile fest scouts and specialist ancillary labels.
Deliberately set in Anytown, South Korea, pic opens as it means to continue — with the discovery of the a young woman’s lacerated body strung up on a school playing field. It’s the fourth such murder in as many months, and the police aren’t making any headway.
The cop on the case, Jae-shin (Lee Seon-gyun), is a childhood friend of penniless, heavy-drinking writer Gyeong-ju (Oh Man-seok), who’s working on a novel based on the murders. Early reels, showing Gyeong-ju’s fantasies (real or imagined), play with the audience’s perceptions and set him up as the prime suspect, especially when he strangles his landlady in a sudden rage and strings up her body in the town’s park. However, Jae-shin suspects this latest abomination may be a copycat murder.
Story develops an even more unsettling level as Gyeong-ju is seemingly recognized by young, baby-faced convenience-store owner Hyo-i (Ryu Deok-hwan), who text-messages him, “Teacher, it was you, wasn’t it?” Audience already knows Hyo-i is seriously out to lunch, as the angelic-looking loner has just killed and eaten his adored pet dog.
Pic keeps auds in suspense not only about which of the two is responsible for the serial murders, but about the connection between the men. Film’s midsection requires considerable concentration, as flashbacks to the protags’ youth — shown in heavily saturated colors — slowly reveal a complex story involving a young woman (Jeong Hye-weon) and Hyo-i’s parents, as more murders continue in the present day. The surprising solution is only the prelude to a final half-hour that involves all three protags and gets very grim indeed.
Movie’s fascination lies not only in the wheels-within-wheels story, but also in the way helmer Jeong makes an implausible plot seem logical within its own universe. By keeping the focus tight on a small number of players, Jeong constructs a highly contained world in which the characters’ actions and feelings assume center stage. It’s pure cinematic sleight-of-hand, but it largely works due to the sustained intensity of the performances.
Weaker stomachs may be alienated by the copious blood-letting. But genre fans — especially of hardcore Korean crimers — will stay on board. Technical package is not as slick as many from the peninsula but actually gains more intensity as a result, and is never less than pro.