'Hindsight'

Splendid setpieces and a typically charming perf from Korean superstar Song Kang-ho add up to not very much at all in "Hindsight."

Splendid setpieces and a typically charming perf from Korean superstar Song Kang-ho add up to not very much at all in “Hindsight.” The long-anticipated return of Lee Hyeon-seung, director of “Il Mare” (remade Stateside as “The Lake House”), this visually pleasing but confused and unsatisfying thriller follows a retired gangster whose friendship with a teenage sharpshooter could lead to love or death. Pic underperformed locally in September, garnering a mere 5.6 billion won ($4.8 million), and while its helmer’s rep will bring some international attention, it’s likely to remain a cult item.

Like so many thrillers determined to undermine their own climax, the pic opens with a life-or-death standoff. Elfin markswoman Se-bin (Shin Sae-kyung) takes aim at retired Seoul gangster Doo-heon (Song) and shoots him at point-blank range. Yarn then flashes back to the cooking class where the pair met: Doo-heon plans to open a restaurant catering to his gangster comrades, just like he’s seen in Hong Kong movies, while Se-bin appears to be a typical sulky teenager, annoyed by Doo-heon’s inability to prepare food properly.

As it turns out, Se-bin was once a competitive shooter in line for the national championship, but her prospects were cut short by injuries sustained in a car accident. While not explicitly stated, it’s implied she borrowed money from Busan’s crime syndicate, and to pay it back, she accepted a contract to kill Doo-hoen.

Doo-heon’s flirtatious nature begins to melt Se-bin’s icy veneer, but her gal pal Eun-jung (Esom) tries to run him down, seemingly to help out her friend, although Se-bin never asked her to do so. Doo-hoen erroneously concludes gangsters are after him and heads to Seoul to investigate, leading to further dangerous complications and misunderstandings.

Knotty plot details and a nagging opacity about character motivations keep the story from flowing smoothly. Nonetheless, there are several memorable scenes: Lee’s handling of a knife fight in Doo-heon’s kitchen is masterful, and a climactic car chase through South Korea’s farmland and subsequent shootout are exquisitely realized. These scenes are individually well-directed, making it all the more disappointing that the script never finds its groove. Even worse, the overlong drama concludes with an absurd coda completely at odds with what precedes it.

Song juggles dramatic and whimsical moments with aplomb, his easy charm as commanding as ever. Made up to look like some manga artist’s malevolent daydream, Shin still manages to be believable as an emotionally conflicted young woman. As Doo-heon’s scar-faced buddy, One-Eye, Chun Jung-myung is intriguing but never quite emerges as a three-dimensional character.

HD lensing by Kim Byung-seo (“Castaway on the Moon”) offers a glorious postcard of the city’s beaches and streets. Sound is as crisp as the images are beautiful, and the jazz-flecked score by Kwon Sung-min and Han So-yeon reps a sophisticated delight. Korean title, which riffs on Doo-heon’s obsession with cooking, translates as “blue salt.”

Hindsight

South Korea

Production

A CJ Entertainment presentation of a Media and Cinema Studioblue production. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Ahn Soo-hyun, Lee Hyeon-seung. Executive producer, Katherine Kim. Directed, written by Lee Hyeon-seung.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Kim Byung-seo; editors, Kim Sang-bum, Yoo Sung-yup; music, Kwon Sung-min, Han So-yeon; production designer, Lee Ha-jun; costume designer, Choi Se-yeon; sound (Dolby Digital), Sung Ji-young, Hong Ye-young; associate producer, Lee Sang-moo. Reviewed at Busan Film Festival (Korean Cinema Today), Oct. 9, 2011. Running time: 121 MIN.

With

Song Kang-ho, Shin Sae-kyung, Chun Jung-myung, Lee Jong-hyeok, Kim Min-jun, Yoon Yeo-jeong, Esom.

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