Based on a string of unsolved homicides in South Korea that inspired Bong Joon-ho’s “Memories of Murder,” “Confession of Murder” boasts the catchy concept of a serial killer giving himself a celebrity makeover. Stuntman-turned-helmer-scribe Jung Byung-gil can’t resist flexing his action muscles, so much so that wham-bang fights and car chases keeps intruding on a narrative that’s already a melange of genres. Although lacking in suspense or cerebral stimulation, the pic’s technical razzle-dazzle and morbidly pulpy subject have racked up killer B.O. of around $15 million, as well as overseas sales.
The opening wastes no time staging a propulsive chase sequence that culminates in a hair-raising rooftop stunt, but provides no explanation about the connection between the hunter and the hunted. The import of the scene only becomes clear when the narrative jumps forward 15 years, to 2005. It turns out that police Lt. Choi Hyung-gu (Jung Jae-young, “Glove,” “Castaway on the Moon”) was pursuing a masked fugitive who may have raped and murdered 10 women between 1986 and 1990, but the suspect escaped.
In 2007, two years after the statute of limitations has expired, Lee Doo-suk (Park Si-hoo) publishes a book in which he confesses to being the serial killer. Impeccably groomed and suave to a fault, he spawns an instant fanbase of teenage girls, and stirs up a media circus by goading Choi in a televised debate.
Just when the story starts to get interesting, the mood changes with the introduction of the victims’ relatives. Their plan to kidnap Lee for revenge is oddly staged as bumbling slapstick (even resorting to snakes in a pool), and only serves as pretext for a high-octane setpiece that works wonders with speeding vehicles. Though the action choreography strains for a Hollywood blockbuster effect, it’s undercut by abrupt editing and gaudy CGI.
By the third act, there’s another twist that delves into Choi’s past, specifically his relation to an 11th victim, Jung Su-yeon (Min Ji-ah), who is still missing. The late arrival of an enigmatic new character, J, (Jung Hae-kyung) finally brings Choi closer to solving the case, and a confrontation among J, Lee and Choi results in a poignant revelation, but another whammo action sequence leads to a morally questionable resolution.
“Confession” purports to pick up where “Memories” left off, turning the murderer, who never made an appearance in Bong’s riveting procedural, into a central figure. Yet the film’s themes — the media’s role as a celebrity-making machine and the public’s appetite for anything lurid — are hackneyed by comparison, and there’s no emotional or psychological heft to the way in which the killer’s image is demystified here. Jung, who trained at an action academy and helmed the docu “Action Boys” (about his classmates), feels ill at ease with fiction, unable to forge a unified style or tone.
Given the characters’ uncertain emotional arcs, Jung and Park do a commendable job providing sharp contrasts. TV thesp Park is especially charismatic as the self-conscious celebrity who switches from smug to smarmy at will, and Jung brings guilt-ridden passion to the familiar role of a scruffy, hot-tempered cop. In her brief appearances, Kim Young-ae leaves a haunting impression as Su-won’s bereaved mother.
Tech credits are flashy but lax on details. Sound mix is powerful, but the music is so brassy it would sound out of place even in “Mission: Impossible.” Pic’s Korean title means “I Am a Murderer.”