Based on a real-life, unsolved child kidnapping, “Voice of a Murderer” translates into an OK drama — largely from the p.o.v. of the parents — that takes a while to deliver real shivers. Third feature by writer-director Park Jin-pyo, best known for his wrinklies sex saga “Too Young to Die,” creates a real showcase for versatile actor Seol Gyeong-gu (“Public Enemy,” “Oasis”). But in general, pic doesn’t transmute its raw fact-based material in the way “Zodiac” or the Korean “Memories of Murder” managed to. Beyond Asia, ethnic film weeks beckon.
Pic, which touched a still-raw nerve in South Korea, is the biggest local hit of the year so far. February release clocked up a beefy 3.2 million admissions (around $18 million) in four weeks.
In Park’s take, film is more about the humbling of a cocky TV celebrity than the procedural elements of the case itself, which dragged on during the summer of ’91 for 44 days before the 9-year-old’s body was found by the sewers of Seoul’s Han River.
Smooth news anchor Han Gyeong-bae (Seol) and his wife, Oh Ji-seon (Kim Nam-ju), live a comfortable life in Seoul’s tony area of Apkujeong. When their son, Sang-woo, is abducted from a playground early one evening — in a quietly menacing scene — and the unseen kidnapper demands $100,000, an elaborate game begins between Han and the voice at the other end of the phone, with the latter leading Han in a not-so-merry dance of potential handovers.
Unknown to Han, his wife has already called in the undercover cops, which doesn’t help matters. But the kidnapper is always one step ahead of the police — portrayed as a quarrelsome, not very smart bunch. Only at the 90-minute mark, when Han decides to get tough with his adversary, does the pic start to really grip and develop a creepy atmosphere of its own.
By focusing mostly on the family rather than police procedures (which only appear in the later stages), writer-director Park takes a bold gamble that only partly pays off. Seol is good at showing Han’s gradual humiliation by the all-seeing kidnapper but, with Kim stuck in a one-note part as his distressed wife, and the kidnapper never shown onscreen, thesp has to carry almost the entire movie.
As one handover after another fails to take place, the pic’s only dramatic engine becomes the staging of the takeovers. These are handled well in general, generating momentary drama, but a growing sense of repetitiveness is hard to shake off.
Strongest seg is the coda, which Seol pulls off with a moving speech on TV. At the very end, helmer Park plays an ace card that is genuinely disturbing — but, after two hours, comes a little too late.
Tech package is slick, with the art direction full of small period details. Widescreen lensing of various locations in and around Seoul add variety to the basically simple menu.