Based on the true story of a murder that took place at a fast food outlet in Itaewon, Seoul back in the year 1997, Where The Truth Lies follows in the footsteps of Korean crime thrillers like The Chaser and Memories of Murder, both excellent true-crime films in their own right, and anchors itself as a contemporary peer comparable to the edginess that both films brought to the table, and holding its own against others that the likes of David Fincher can turn out, such as Zodiac.
Presenting itself at times like a documentary, the film also serves, like the others mentioned, as a critique on the state of justice in the country, the challenges and inadequacies faced not from the cops this time round, but from the office of the public prosecutor Park (Jeong Jin-yeong), surrounded by staff who are none too competent, and always very eager to take the short cut in closing the case soonest possible. In an investigation I'd gather it's always prudent to check everything, and not just lap up what's being presented on the silver platter if it comes on one.
Director Hong Ki-seon gives us the Rashomon treatment, in having the prime suspects to the gruesome, senseless crime, pit themselves against each other, leaving little room as well for the Prosecutor to manuver. We have Pearson (Jang Geun-seok), whose ownership of the murder weapon puts him as a suspect, but then his finger is firmly pointed on buddy Alex (Shin Seung-hwan), whose finger is correspondingly pointed in the opposite direction back at Pearson. In presenting both sides of the argument, anyone who has done investigations will know that one man's words against the other is extremely difficult to break down, especially when both seem to be seasoned liars, and are too smart to say anything more that would incriminate the other or themselves. The lack of any other evidence also compounds the difficulties, especially when eyewitnesses are friends of the accused who don't bat an eyelid to change their statements in the courtroom.
The frustration of constantly hitting the brick wall, for Prosecutor Park as well as the audience, will prove to be what makes this film all the more riveting. On one hand you're led to believe one over the other, but on the other hand, the arguments on the other side seem all the more appealing. It's extremely difficult trying to figure out who's guilty and who's not, and the acting by both Jang Geun-seok and Shin Seung-hwan as the accused were superbly delivered to present this exact dilemma. To throw in my two cents worth, I do have my theories, but they remain just that, in the light of further accounts that were probabl, and deliberately, not made known in the narrative.
Fans of true crime stories will definitely not want to miss this, and the outcome is something quite heart-wrenching, especially when you realize that the system is out there to be manipulated by those able to, either with money, or a very determined lawyer.