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"M" will signify murder for auds who like a little content beneath the packaging but magic for those who can groove on technical flash alone.

'Show Me the Money'

All sizzle and no steak, “M” will signify murder for auds who like a little content beneath the packaging but magic for those who can groove on technical flash alone. Skedded for local release in late October, “M” looks like it will be storming few Western beachheads later on and will find its most appreciative audience at cult Asian events and specialist DVD labels.

After applying his own brand of visual showmanship to the crime actioner (“Nowhere to Hide”) and martial artser (“Duelist”), South Korean showman Lee Myung-se here essays Hitchcockian psychodrama — but forgot to come up with any real psychology or drama. Helmer is on record as saying he was inspired by a dream in which Hitchcock presented him with a book titled “M.” Uh, okay.

Onscreen virtually the entire time, central character is popular writer Han Min-woo (Gang Dong-weon), who’s going through a creative crisis on his new novel, for which he’s already accepted a sizable advance. Thirtysomething Min-woo despises the populist rubbish on which he’s made his fame and fortune, and also is due to marry his g.f., Eun-hye (Gong Hyo-jin), with whom he shares an impossibly modernistic, black-and-white, glass-walled apartment.

In need of inspiration and emotional succor, Min-woo starts having flashbacks to his first love, Lee Mi-mi (Lee Yeon-heui), who may or may not be still alive in the flesh as well as in his dreams. When Eun-hye starts to think he’s having an affair with another woman, he tells her “Mi-mi” is the name of his new novel.

That’s it for plot — but even that takes some piecing together in the early stages, as Lee Myung-se starts the picture from Mi-mi’s point of view, with her apparently stalking the writer (whom she dubs “Mr. M”) as the man of her dreams.

The way in which Lee manages to spin 110 minutes of dream sequences, visual effects, gliding camerawork and sensuous lensing out of the back-of-a-coaster yarn is certainly impressive. And at a pure tech level, the pic is high-end throughout and far more of a piece than earlier South Korean visual extravaganzas like “Resurrection of the Little Match Girl.”

But by the halfway mark, as it’s clearer what game Lee is playing, auds will decide either to head for dinner or to stay for the ride. Main problem is the almost total lack of any mystery or real psychology in the characters’ makeup, let alone dramatic tension. Picture becomes an increasingly self-referential trip through what seems to be the memories and imagination of Lee himself — whose given name, like Min-woo and Mi-mi’s, also starts with an “M.”

Best portions are, in fact, the most romantic, where Min-woo recalls blissful childhood days with Mi-mi — marbled by humorous moments — in a simpler, unmodernistic South Korea. Problem is, Min-woo (unlike helmer Lee) is too young to have been a teenager in what appears to be the early ’70s.

Actors are OK, but get no chance to draw real characters beyond the movie’s highly managed style, restless editing and sumptuous production design and f/x.

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South Korea

  • Production: A Showbox/Mediaplex release of a Production M, Chungeorahm Film production. (International sales: Showbox/Mediaplex, Seoul.) Produced by Oh Su-mi, Lee Myung-se. Executive producer, Jo Seong-woo. Directed by Lee Myung-se. Screenplay, Lee Myung-se, Lee Hae-gyeong.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Alex Hong; editor, Go Im-pyo; music, Jo Seung-woo; production designer, Lee Myung-se; sound (Dolby Digital), Park Jun-oh. Reviewed at Pusan Intl. Film Festival (Gala Presentation), Oct. 6, 2007. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 110 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Gang Dong-weon, Lee Yeon-heui, Gong Hyo-jin.
  • Music By: