H

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Suspense and suspension of disbelief come together for this exciting if somewhat rote crime thriller.

H is the directorial debut of Lee Jon-hyeok, centering around Detective Kang Tae-hyun (Ji Jin-hee) and Detective Kim Mi-yeon (Yum Jung-ah), who are called in to investigate the grissly murders of several women. These murders, all of which have something to do with pregnancy and motherhood, bear some resemblance to previous homicides, committed by serial killer Shin Hyun (Jo Seung-woo). The two detectives decide to call on him for help on tracking down the copycat killer.

This leads to a series of typical “deranged serial killer” conversations, some red herrings, and a few nice surprises here and there. The film is very typical crime thriller fare: H provides nothing particularly new by any stretch of the imagination. The plot twists are somewhat predictable and the influences from Silence of the Lambs and Se7en mean you can pretty much guess what’s coming next.

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Not to say that this film isn’t entertaining or anything. Director Lee Jong-hyeok cranks up the atmosphere to eleven, and every scene is oozing with suspense, and as the questions pile on you find yourself increasingly drawn into this weird, twisted world. The production design, direction and sound production go hand in hand perfectly, which does a very good job of making the viewer feel invested.

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Watching H for the first time is like watching any other great crime thriller the second time around. You might know more or less where the film is headed, but it doesn’t stop you from enjoying every moment of it – and in fact, you spend more time looking at the little clues and the foreshadowed moments. Taken as it is, H is a strikingly confident piece of work for a first-time director. There are a few sections that don’t make a whole lot of sense, either – I’m not entirely sure every question is answered, but those are moments you have to ignore to make the larger narrative work.

The cast is excellent.Ji Jin-hee and Yum Jung-ah have good chemistry together and Jo Seung-woo is clearly having an absolute blast with his role as the deranged Shin Hyun. He breaks out his impression of every lunatic serial killer put on screen, from Norman Bates to Hannibal Lecter. Together, three create a captivating trio of mains, with a host of side characters, including a suspicious psychologist who helps the detectives, played by Min Woong-ki.

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H works in that it isn’t just another retread, not really. While director Lee is most definitely influenced by the films of David Fincher, Jonathan Demme and Christopher Nolan, he puts his own spin on it, which makes for movie that’s still in a lot of ways quite refreshing. What makes H stand out over similar films in the genre is its thematic core – Shin’s obsession with birth and motherhood results in some creepy monologues and some gruesome death scenes both from him and the copycat killer. It brings an emotional and psychological aspect to a film that might otherwise become stale halfway.

Verdict: It might not be anything groundbreaking and might make a few odd story decisions, but H will keep you hooked from start to end with a brooding atmosphere and a great cast.

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2 thoughts on “H

  1. I was wondering where you got to movies like this one because as far as I can tell, it’s not even registered on Imdb. From what you’re telling it really reminded me for movies like “Tell me something” that was released more than 15 years ago (at the “restart” of the Korean film industry following the smash hit that was Shiri).

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    1. It’s quite like Tell Me Something in a few respects, yeah. There’s a definite visual style in a lot of Korean thrillers shared by those two films and continued in films like I Saw the Devil.

      By the way, I found this as part of Tartan’s Asia Extreme releases (which has been a saving grace for anyone looking to watch foreign films in the west), but their availability is increasingly scarce. And H has an IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0304120/. Reckon it’d be a good idea to link it in the review?

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