Director Hong Won-Chan’s office-set thriller has some good ideas, but little else
“The office is filled with wolves waiting to tear each other apart.”
Hey, wait a second. This isn’t the Johnnie To musical at all! I picked this movie up accidentally, while not paying any attention, thinking it was a completely different movie: one released in the same year, with the same title. That film is a musical set in an office block, with Chow Yun-fat and is also in Chinese. This is a movie about a killer at a sales company, and also is Korean. How did I confuse the two? Apparently I’m easily fooled. Whatever, let’s see what this is about.
So Office opens on some pretty strong stuff: An office manager called Kim Byeong-Gook (Bae Sung-Woo) comes home one day and casually murders his whole family and vanishes. OK, this might not be what I was planning on seeing, but it’s a good start. The following morning, the police show up at the office he worked at to question people. Detective Jong-Hoon (Park Sung-Woong) is having trouble getting straight answers from anyone, except for new intern Lee Mi-Rye (Ko Ah-Sung).
Mi-Rye is struggling at the firm, and feels like she doesn’t belong in the dog-eat-dog world of selling stuff and making powerpoints. None of her coworkers like her, and the only person she was close to, Kim, is now a wanted murderer. But no time for that, as it seems Kim is now hiding in the office and killing everyone who dares stay later than closing.
This is an interesting premise; it has a claustrophobic setting with lots of places for a person to hide and go nuts in. On top of that, there’s a thick layer of secrecy attached because the company doesn’t want the bad publicity. All of this is good stuff: it gives the story an air of mystery (even though there isn’t one), has an array of office jerks ripe for the murderin’ and so it sets itself up for some great moments. But set-up and execution aren’t always one and the same, and this is quite obvious in a movie like Office. That secrecy I mentioned earlier doesn’t really go anywhere, for example. There’s definitely set-up for a fun conspiracy somewhere, but that’s quickly dispelled. People are acting shady for no reason, adding a faux level of suspicion and that’s one of the bigger flaws in this picture.
Another one is that this movie sometimes forgets it’s a thriller, which is a shame because when it wants to it does its genre justice. This is director Hong Won-Chan’s debut feature, but he has talent for creating scenes loaded with tension. The scenes with Kim Byeong-Gook – notably the one where he kills his family at the start, and the one where he tries to get into the company boss’ car – are staged very nicely. Bae Sung-Woo’s performance also helps draw the audience into what’s going on. The scenes of the office after-hours, when lone employees struggle to make a deadline while being stalked by a killer are great and by far the highlight of the picture.
However, all of that good stuff is short and far-between. The rest of this movie is just scenes of awful (or in the case of Lee Mi-Rye, boring) characters getting stressed about a frankly uninteresting job, and being horrible to one another. Kim Sang-Gyu, the boss, is especially appalling as the guy who does nothing but scold everyone for the company performing worse while it’s under police investigation. I get it – like the quote at the start of this review – it’s about how … people in offices can be jerks(? Maybe?), but when you have two hours of a bunch of people bitching and moaning before getting mercifully slaughtered, then it’s hard to root for anyone surviving.
Overall, it starts out very nicely: It goes flying out of the starting position beautifully, using a grizzly murder to propel its momentum forward. However, once that’s over and done with and we’re left watching some of the worst policemen put on screen, it starts to show its faults. It has some great moments of intensity, but they’re not enough to save the movie from faltering as quickly as it does. Then it throws everything at the wall, including some weird twists that the audience predicted long before but hoped would not actually happen, and by then you’re checking your watch and wondering how much longer there is.
Verdict: It’s got some good moments, and certainly isn’t a bad film but Office crucially fails to stay interesting throughout.
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall entertainment: 5/10
Best moments: The murders
Likeable characters: 1, maybe?
Times Lee Mi-Rye bumps into people: Roughly a thousand
Singing Chow Yun-fats: 0. None. I checked.
Recommendation level: Minimal
Also known as: 오피스 (Opiseu)
Director: Hong Won-Chan
Writer: Choi Yoon-Jin, Hong Won-Chan
Go Ah-Sung – Lee Mi-Rye
Park Sung-Woong – Detective Jong-Hoon
Bae Seong-woo – Section Chief Kim Byeong-Gook
Kim Eui-Sung – Director Kim Sang-Gyu
Ryu Hyun-kyung – Assistant Manager Hong Ji-Sun
Lee Chae-Eun – Yeom Ha-Young
Son Soo-Hyun – Shin Da-Mi
Park Jung-Min – Lee Won-Suk
Oh Dae-Hwan – Jung Jae-Il
Lee Moon-Jung – Eun-Yi
Choi Byung-Mo – HR Director
Gi Ju-Bong – Detective Squad Chief
Son Sung-Chan – Cop 1
Yoo Son-Il – Detective 1
Jeon Kwang-Jin – Detective 4
Son Young-Soon – Byeong-Gook’s mother
Other films like this: The Chaser is a much better film, written by the director of this picture. Memories of Murder is an all-round better police procedural. A Hard Day has a similar feel, but is better.