Monday 7 July 2008

Face (2004)

Lee Hyun-min resigns from the National Institute of Science Investigation to care for his young daughter Jin who has had a heart transplant, made more problematic by the fact that she's beta-allergic. However he's a talented facial reconstruction expert and with a serial killer melting down bodies using some form of medical benzene, he's needed to assist with the hunt. Another young reconstructor named Jung Sun-yeong brings him the fourth skull and they work together to reconstruct it.

Our story has to do with how various paths gradually cross. Lee is naturally concerned about his daughter and has been trying to obtain the name of the donor of her new heart because he has doubts about the efficacy of the treament being given her. Meanwhile the detectives working the serial killer case come to the realisation that there's a reason for the melting of the bodies. When they work from the assumption that the killer is trying to hide something, they discover that the victims were beta-allergic and suddenly all roads point towards one man: Dr Joon, the only successful doctor working with beta-allergic transplants.

This film combines a combination of genres, which helps to keep us on our toes as to our expectations. You wouldn't guess it from the synopsis above but this has a solid supernatural element to it. From the earliest scenes in the hospital, Lee begins to see visions and hear strange high pitched noises, which eventually lead him to another skull. There are some creepy moments here in the standard jurei way but mostly it's a lot more subtle. It's also a police thriller, with the hunt for a serial killer as a background, and a medical thriller too. It's even an unconventional romance, but romances are always better for being unconventional.

The two leads are Yun-ah Song and Hyeon-jun Shin. Song is a beautiful young lady who suckered me in on this one by playing her part superbly. Shin is a capable actor who juggles scientific drive with dedication and care for his daughter very well indeed. What surprises me most is that with all the Korean films I'm watching lately, I haven't seen either of these actors in anything else, even though they have solid filmographies. Shin in particular has 27 films to his name dating back to a trilogy called Son of a General between 1990 and 1992. The titles suggest versatility. Song only has seven film credits but again I'm missing all of them.

Freshest to the party is writer/director Sang-Gon Yoo, who came to this with only one other film, a 1997 short called Kilmok, and a segment of the Yellow Flower erotic anthology to his credit. He's written a clever story here and one that plays a lot more subtly than most of the extreme Asian films I've been watching lately. It doesn't feel as solid as far as plot goes and maybe could have benefitted from more length and fleshing out of background subplots, but it reminds a little of M Night Shyamalan and it beats his work without even trying.

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