H (에이치, Lee Jong-hyuk: 2002)

Three pregnant women are found hideously murdered in a manner that bears a resemblance to the infamous serial killer Shin Hyun. Unfortunately for Detectives Kim and Kang, Shin Hyun was already locked up in prison at the time of the killings, so they fear that they have a copycat on the loose. With little evidence to work their case on, the two detectives hesitantly arrange to visit Shin to see if he can shed any light on the  murders…

Hmmm. Sometimes it’s good to take an influence from elsewhere and to weave it into your own version. Sometimes though, you just end up with a pale imitation of the original. To cut straight to the chase, H ‘borrows’ generously from the likes of Se7en (David Fincher / 1995) and The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme / 1991) and throws in some ideas of it’s own. Unfortunately the resulting film is nowhere near as interesting as those it borrows from – although it does work fairly well as a typical B movie genre flick.

Best viewed with no prior knowledge of the plot, H opens with a suitably dark and brooding murder scene – complete with one grisly and shocking murder detail to make us realise that this can’t possibly be just your standard killer (!) (in this case the pregnant woman appears to have had her baby removed – told you it was grisly), H starts well enough, ticking the ‘serial killer hunted by detectives’ boxes. With the tension duly tightened up from the outset then, it’s a shame that it doesn’t take very long before it’s allowed to slip – mainly due to a poor pacing. As unwinds you find that it has a handful of very effective scenes (dark, dramatic moments with the glimmer of a strong performance) intercut with several overlong and poorly judged moments (dimly lit, nothing happening, hammy acting, lasting aaaages!). Unfortunately a slow pace does not equate to growing tension!

Yum Jung-ah and Ji Jin-hee are H‘s struggling detectives. Jung-ah appears suitably ‘haunted’ and ‘withdrawn’, while Jin-hee goes with ‘angry’ and ‘frustrated’. The shallowness of H  renders their performances as pretty by the numbers, although the fault is with the writing rather than the actors. Both appear to be trying to get their teeth stuck in, while H does have a few nice moments for each of them, this isn’t ‘acting’ material. Speaking of which, Choo Seung-woo has a complete ball as the encarcerated psycho killer Shin Hyun. Verging on going way over the top – which of course if where the fun is to be had – Shin Hyun is a pale imitation of the likes of Hannibal Lector and John Doe, but at least he’s lively and livens up when he’s on the screen. Having said that, it’s a show piece comic book psycho-behind-bars, and so adds little depth in any way to either the characters or the plot.

Visually H gives us everything that we’ve come to know and love from our serial killer films  with its suitably dark and brooding cinematography which manages to loiter uncomfortably around the murder scenes. Much of the nastiness takes place off camera, and with some nice choices in both the shooting and editing of the scenes they are often very effective.

If it sounds like I’ve been a little harsh on H, it’s partly because it feels like it could have been so much more. It’s a really strong production visually and the performances are decent but are likely to have been better with a stronger script. As a serial killer thriller it’s a disappointment, but viewed as a pulpy genre piece it’s certainly worth considering. It certainly has it’s moments of inspiration mixed with a certain amount of laziness. There’s just nothing really very new here to keep our interest for the complete running time, yet alone tension. When the one real shocking moment arrives it’s in the form of the ‘final twist’ – another box ticked in the book of serial killer thrillers.
The filmmakers do genuinely appear to have been trying to come up with something new here, although if you make it through to the end of the film you’ll find that it’s the type of ending that will divide most viewers into the ‘like it’ and ‘hate it’ camps. I found it quite amusing, but at least it’s enough of a twist ending to make most people form more than just a lukewarm opinion about the film.

에이치 (H)
Directed by Lee Jong-hyuk
Produced by Oh Jung-wan, Ryu Jin-ok
Written by Lee Jong-hyeok, Kim Hee-jae, Oh Seung-uk
Starring Yum Jung-ah, Ji Jin-hee, Choo Seung-woo, Sung Ji-ru, Min Woong-ki, Park Yong-soo

H Image © Bom Film Productions Co. Ltd