×

Fatal

A tightly constructed slow-burn thriller about a 28-year-old man haunted by his participation in a gang rape 10 years earlier, "Fatal" marks an outstanding feature debut by South Korean scripter-helmer Lee Donku.

With:
With: Nam Yeon-woo, Yang Jo-a, Hong Jung-ho, Kang Gi-doong, Seo Yeong-kyung, Kim Hee-sung, Seo Yeong-kyung, Son Sang-gyu, Cho A-ra, Lim Seong-kyun, Lee Byeong-gil.

A tightly constructed slow-burn thriller about a 28-year-old man haunted by his participation in a gang rape 10 years earlier, “Fatal” marks an outstanding feature debut by South Korean scripter-helmer Lee Donku. With knockout perfs by first-timers Nam Yeon-woo and Yang Jo-a as perpetrator and victim, respectively, this uncompromising effort is gripping from the get-go and never lets up. World-preemed in competition at Busan, and still without local distribution, the pic will need critical kudos and strong word of mouth to make commercial inroads. A lengthy fest life looks assured, and sales to niche tube outlets are possible.

Lee’s first concern is to show the pernicious power of bullying. In what initially appears to be a straightforward scene showing naughty high-school buddies smoking in a room on campus, timid boy Sung-gong (Nam) is goaded by domineering Sae-woon (Kang Gi-doong) and compliant sidekicks Kyung-sang (Hong Jung-ho) and Hyung-woo (Kim Hee-sung). After a couple of minutes have elapsed, the horrifying truth is revealed: In an adjoining room, a drugged and unconscious teenage girl is being raped in turn by the boys.

Popular on Variety

Stricken by conscience, Sung-gong refuses to take part, but is thrown into the room and told to do what’s expected of him, or else. Whether Sung-gong actually performs the act is never made clear; nor does it need to be. The message here, and in all that follows, is that by his mute presence alone, Sung-gong is guilty of a despicable crime.

As the action jumps ahead 10 years, it’s apparent that Sung-gong has been living with a crushing burden of guilt ever since that day. Employed in a nothing job at small garment factory in Seoul, he remains painfully awkward and still willing to be humiliated by Kyung-sang, so corrosive is his craving for acceptance.

Driven by a combination of curiosity and desperation, Sung-gong wanders into a local church and meets a group of young believers whose happiness slowly but surely proves intoxicating. At a meet-and-greet session, he is introduced to Park Jang-mi (Yang), a sweet girl who happens to be the victim of his crime all those years ago.

What happens next is utterly compelling, as Sung-gong wrestles with the burning need to confess to Jang-mi and his growing concern that by doing so he might lose the most kind-hearted girl he could ever hope to meet. Striking a fine balance between romantic drama and psychological thriller, Lee’s precision-tooled screenplay gives auds the space to accept Sung-gong’s present without ever having to forgive him for the past.

This delicate balancing act comes to an unforgettable head at a beachside holiday retreat organized by effervescent church-youth-group leader Min-woo (Son Sang-gyu). The achingly sad scene that ensues distills the awful truth about the permanent scars borne by young sex-crime victims.

The film’s use of religious symbolism is a tad clunky in spots, but the questions it raises about remorse and responsibility — and their answers — won’t easily be forgotten.

Excellent thesping by a main cast consisting exclusively of newcomers plays a major role in the film’s success. Required to venture into the darkest of emotional territory, lead performers Nam and Yang rise to the occasion superbly. Direction-wise, Lee makes nary a misstep in guiding his cast, maintaining a tone that is intense and suspenseful without ever nudging toward melodrama.

The pic is well presented on a miniscule budget. Highlights of a thoroughly pro tech package are the moody photography and a sparingly applied score that makes a strong impact when brought to the fore. Korean-language title translates as “thorny flower.”

Fatal

South Korea

Production: A DK Film production. (International sales: DK Film, Seoul.) Produced by Kim Hee-sung. Directed, written, edited by Lee Donku.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD), Kang Moon-bong; music, Park Hee-sun; art director, Kim Mi-ran; sound (stereo), Han Myeong-soo, Seon Jong-hoon; assistant directors, Lee Seong-chan, Kim Cheol-hwan. Reviewed at Busan Film Festival (New Currents -- competing), Oct. 8, 2012. Running time: 103 MIN.

With: With: Nam Yeon-woo, Yang Jo-a, Hong Jung-ho, Kang Gi-doong, Seo Yeong-kyung, Kim Hee-sung, Seo Yeong-kyung, Son Sang-gyu, Cho A-ra, Lim Seong-kyun, Lee Byeong-gil.

More Film

  • Marvel Studios' CAPTAIN MARVEL..Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel

    'Captain Marvel' Sequel in Development

    Disney has officially launched development of a “Captain Marvel” sequel. The studio is in final negotiations with Megan McDonnell, a staff writer on Marvel-based series “WandaVision” on the project. The 2019 blockbuster “Captain Marvel” starred Brie Larson as Carol Danvers and grossed $1.13 billion worldwide. Disney and Marvel have not yet set a release date [...]

  • Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs

    Aviron Pictures Hit With Layoffs, Joel Kinnaman Action Movie 'The Informer' in Limbo

    Fledgling distributor Aviron Pictures has been hit with a significant staff reduction less than a month after the removal of top executive WIlliam Sadleir, numerous insiders told Variety.  Almost half of a staff of 30 were dismissed last week, amid wide rumors that the company’s deep-pocketed financier Black Rock has defunded the outfit entirely, sources [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein Bill Clinton

    Harvey Weinstein's Lawyer Seeks Mistrial When D.A. Refers to Bill Clinton Friendship

    Harvey Weinstein was associated with the Clintons for years, socially and as a generous donor to both of their political campaigns. And according to prosecutors in Weinstein’s criminal trial, he bragged about his friendship with the former president to women he allegedly sexually assaulted, in an effort to intimidate them. During opening statements on Wednesday, [...]

  • Channing Tatum

    Channing Tatum to Star in 'Bob the Musical' Comedy for Disney

    Channing Tatum is attached to star in and produce “Bob the Musical” for Disney — a project that’s been in development for more than a decade. Tatum will produce through his company, Free Association, and partners Reid Carolin and Peter Kiernan. Tripp Vinson and Chris Bender are also attached to produce. No director is currently [...]

  • John Henry

    'John Henry': Film Review

    Terry Crews’ John Henry is a man of few words. “John Henry,” the folklore-cribbing, violent thriller (opening theatrically and available on demand) about a former gang member who must face his demons when two young immigrants require his help, feels like it wants to say a lot. But what exactly? Utilizing horror-movie gestures and ladling [...]

  • Matt Damon SNL

    Matt Damon to Star in NYPD Thriller 'The Force'

    Matt Damon has come on board to star in “The Force” with James Mangold directing for Disney’s 20th Century Studios. Mangold, who directed Damon in “Ford v. Ferrari,” has been developing the Don Winslow bestseller since 2017. “The Force” centers on corrupt NYPD officers with Damon attached to play detective Denny Malone, who runs an [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein female juror

    Novelist Who Wrote About Predatory Men Stays on Harvey Weinstein Jury

    A novelist who has an upcoming book about predatory older men in New York will remain on the Harvey Weinstein jury, despite vociferous objections from the defense. Juror #11 showed up to opening statements on Wednesday, and sat through the full day of trial. Weinstein’s defense had argued last Friday that she should be removed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content