Seen in Jeonju

Head (2011)

3rd February 2012

headWhen I first heard about the movie Head and saw the cast, I was really excited to see it. Ryu Deok-hwan! Park Ye-jin! Baek Yoon-shik! Oh Dal-soo! I have been a fan of Ryu’s for a while and really like his recent work–even his television forensic/mystery program, God’s Quiz on OCN. Park Ye-jin’s movie roles may be a little weak, but I fell in love with the image she created during the years she was on ‘real’ television comedy, Family. While BaekYoon-shik’s more recent film choices may be questionable, he has credits in Tazza and The President’s Last Bang under his belt and is still considered an excellent actor. And Oh Dal-soo is a mainstay in Korean films and a great character actor.  Throw in former G.O.D. singer Danny Ahn in a supporting role and what’s not to love?  You would think that this would be a great way to spend a chilly afternoon, just sitting at home and watching the story of Head unfold.  You would be very, very wrong.  It ranks as one of the worst films I have seen in a long time.  It is hard to pinpoint just one place where the movie went wrong, but if I am going to start finger-pointing, it would have to be at director and scriptwriter Jo Woon.  This was his first feature length film after a handful of shorts made around 2005.  I don’t think he knew what he was doing.

With a simple phone call early in the movie, I knew I was not going to be in for an enjoyable experience. It was one of the most awkward moments on camera I have witnessed in a long time. I truly believe that Ryu’s voice was added to the scene in postproduction and that Park Ye-jin had no idea what she was supposed to be responding to nor how she should be reacting. Her deadpan reactions to his panicked screams are at first frustrating and then humerous for all the wrong reasons. In general, her acting is very stiff but in these scenes, it is just terrible and not in line with the seriousness of the situation– even if she thought he was just pulling a prank, she would have reacted more strongly. 

Ryu’s talents are entirely wasted in the movie as he spends much of it tied up either in his underwear or in a dress. I could not tell you if his wardrobe was supposed to be for comedic effect or to add a sense of darker threats in addition to be abducted and threatened with death. In either case, it didn’t work.  Yoon tries his best at playing a villain but he never become fully convincing and I would say he was just phoning in his performance and counting the minutes for the shooting to be finished.  And it was easy to forget that Oh Dal-soo and Danny Ahn were even in this movie (and they probably want you to forget). Their roles could have been played by anyone and it would not have had any effect on this movie.

The script is a big part of this film’s failure.  It was so full of holes and illogical actions. Why didn’t anyone at any point just take the head-in-the-box to the nearest police station. Hong-je (Ryu) claims it was because he had a criminal record, but why would the police blame him?  The story starts with working for a delivery company and being unable to complete the delivery of a package.  The package leaks all over his hand and upon opening it, he discovers a human head.  The head belongs to a famous scientist who was believed to have committed suicide but whose cranium disappeared somewhere between the morgue and the funeral home.

Hong-je calls his sister, Hong-joo (Park), a struggling entertainment reporter, in a fit of terror. First about finding a head, then about his boss being killed at the company’s office and then about being nearly killed himself by a man (Yoon) desperate to get the grisly package back. He hides the head and waits for his sister at home when he is abducted. Hong-joo is informed that she has one hour to find where the head is hidden and get it to the kidnapper before he butchers her brother.  Basically, that is the story. Oh, there is also an illegal organ harvesting ring, a nursing home full of zombified elderly residents following the minister housing them with cult-like devotion and a corrupt cop subplot but it is all just padding and for the most part either makes no sense or is of very little interest. 

There is a too brief moment where the film could have redeemed itself a little when Hong-joo calls a flock of reporters to her assistance rather than the police and, had this been done with a little more satire, it would have been an excellent commentary on the mob-like behavior we often see with Korean reporters. However, it was not done with a tongue-in-cheek intention and proved to be a missed opportunity.  Although I like each actor individually, I cannot recommend this movie at all. And I hope that director Jo does not get his hands on a camera for a while. Even though his second attempt may be better, I need a little time to forget this film before I try to watch anything else he might make.

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