There are no lack of examples when it comes to very sterling specimens of solid psychological crime thrillers to come out of South Korean cinema in recent years, and it's no different that Confession of Murder also belongs up there with one of the best the country has to offer in the genre. Written and directed by Jung Byoung-Gil, whose earlier film was the documentary Action Boys, he has shown that he's not all just about action, but has the knack in crafting a taut thriller with its fair share of twists, turns, and more importantly, providing it with such a tormented soul that will allow you to feel sympathetic for the victims involved, and root for retribution on the culprit. If that can be found out.
At first glance, the story seems simple enough, with Detective Choi Hyung-Goo (Jung Jae-Young) losing his opportunity to nab a masked serial killer who had claimed more than 10 victims in a random killing spree, with that obsession spiralling his life downwards with the ultimate insult added to injury when his mouth got slit by the killer's knife, leaving a deep scar he bears as a symbol to his failure. Fast forward to some 15 years, and with the Statute of Limitations expired, Lee Doo-Suk (Park Si-Hoo) comes out in the open to admit he is the killer responsible for the spate of deaths, and now releasing a book as a memoir and confession to his dasterdly deeds. A little bit of an artistic license here I believe, since the Statute of Limitations is only for civil cases and not criminal ones like this, but let's not quibble and accept that it does pose an intriguing proposition, something like double jeopardy.
So begins the cat and mouse chase of trying to prove, or disprove that Lee was indeed that man more than a decade ago who had shattered the lives of many family members with his killings, and now arrogantly living the high life of a celebrity, no thanks to celebrity culture that we cannot understand fully, where cult followings grow out of the most bizzare of situations, and those who are good looking are automatically assumed improbable to doing the most wicked of deeds. With bodyguards in tow and the law shackled by its own statutes, there is little that Detective Choi can do except to sit back and witness media adoration, and rocket sales of a book that shouldn't have been published in the first place.
Similar to Park Chan Wook's Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, the events that unfold her include that of the impact to family, and how family decide to take it upon themselves in vigilante style to execute their brand of justice when the law gets paralyzed. In between the more emotional, dramatic moments where their pain get experienced with Lee's sheer audacity of a public appearance and confession, director Jung felt it was perhaps appropriate to inject extremely light comedy to diffuse heavier moments that were dangerously close to stagnating the narrative, with a wee bit of action for good measure as well. Something's not quite right, and there's more than meets the eye of course, when yet another man comes out to claim notoriety and responsibility to the serial killings, throwing everything you'd assume into disarray.
Which is a good thing of course, especially for the jaded amongst us who constantly think we have seen it all. What the story, also by Jung, did was not only to lapse into providing red herrings that were obvious, but to really invest an audience's time and emotions into the story. We learn about a select group of victims, and how their unnatural passing causes inexplicable pain to their closest ones, and the brilliance here is to make it really personal as well for Detective Choi, with vested interest to want to bring the murderer to justice, yet hampered by the same law he is sworn to uphold as an officer.
This primary dilemma, plus what I thought was the ultimate twist, followed by the obligatory finale pursuit, and emotional closure, was what made Confession of Murder a carefully thought out crime thriller, in a genre that's becoming increasingly challenging to have novelty and originality, but Jung showed there's still substance in the tank on top of having very polished and stylish production values rewarding the patient audience. Having the right cast was also half the battle won, with Jung Jae-Young as the detective and Park Si-Hoo the confessor sharing good chemistry opposite each other in this high stakes cat and mouse game. A definite recommendation!