Seen in Jeonju

Paradise Villa <2001>

1st October 2012

Paradise Villadirected by Park Jong-won, starring Jo Han-joon <as 20-year old>, Ha Yoo-mi <as Piano Teacher>, Lee Jin-woo <as the Fund Manager>, Running Time: 95 minutes, Release Date: December 7, 2001

4046I have to admmit that I like the poster of this film, probably more than I liked the actual movie.  The darkened apartment building and the menacing eyes superimposed over the stairs create a heavy atmosphere that, unfortunately, the confused screenplay can never hope to match.   The tagline reads, “One visit, Seven Murders, 100 minutes. Killing Start!”  which, all-in-all, is an accurate,albeit brief, description of the movie.  I’ll expand on it a little. 

The movie opens in a noisy PC game room where we meet a young man whom we will be seeing a lot of in the latter part of the film. We never learn his name, but his gamer ID on the video game Lineage is 20 Year Old.  A strange glitch occurs and his character encounters another playing character operating under the name Mr. Viagra. The game identifies Mr. Viagra as a friend and the young man is unable attack him or prevent him from stealing all of his weapons and supplies that he built up over the course of time– often years.  I remember the Lineage craze in Korea.. one of the students living in my house around 2003 had a character that was very high level and, after years of playing, he sold the character for the equivalent of a couple of hundred US dollars.  And that was exactly what the hackers are doing with 20 Year Olds equipment..holding online auctions and selling off his character’s property. Furious at what has happened, 20 Year Old <henceforth 2YO as I don’t want to keep typing his full name as credited>  snaps and, in an unexplained manner, discovers where the perp who stole his virtual equimpent live, goes to that apartment in Paradise Villa to get answers. Eventually, he goes on a killing spree but not at first. In fact, he cannot even be credited with the first murder.

That act belongs to the Piano Teacher and the Fund Manager. The two have been involved in an affair and the Piano Teacher is trying to convince Fund Manager to leave his wife. They were in the middle of an afternoon of passionate sex when the Landlord bursts into the Fund Manager’s apartment screaming at them to stop what they are doing.  The Landlord had been alerted to their amorous activities by his son who left a phone message regarding what was going on in the second floor apartment.  I assume the reason why the Landlord reacts so violently is because he leapt the conclusion that Fund Manager was with Rooftop Girl.  The latter young lady lives in a small room on the roof of the apartment building and has been sleeping with the Landlord. Although an adult, she is childlike, playing hopscotch and the like by herself on the roof, and is overly friendly with most men she meets. The Landlord had seen the Fund Manager on the roof smoking a short while before which is why he flies into a fury.  Mind you, he never says any of this but I assume what Fund Manager does in his own apartment would be his own business and there can be no other reason for the rage.  In any event, the Fund Manager defends and protects the Piano Teacher from the attacking Landlord.  The building owner is shoved backwards and trips, striking his head on a shelf on the way to the floor where he lies, unmoving.  The pair of lovers panic and start making plans on how to dispose of the body. There is a soccer game beteween Japna and Korea on tv and Fund Manager reasons that they can get the body out of the apartment while everyone is watching the match and dump it in the abandoned mines along the eat coast. But while Piano Teacher is gathering her clothes, the injured landlord wakes up and startles her to such a degree that she reaches for a nearby dumbbell and crushes his head with it.  A new level of shock and panic sets in the leaves the pair temporary frozen and unable to act. So while they are stunned, the film turns its attentionot 2YO and what he is up to.

86312YO has traced his hacker to the apartment of the landlord. However, all he has is the online ID of Mr. Viagra to go on. He does not know who he is looking for. As luck would have it, his first encounter is with the people responsible for his misfortune in the computer game, the landlord’s son and his friend. Of course, they deny knowing what the clearly disturbed young man is talking about and the pair are allowed to leave freely. 2YO is not physically strong and taking on two opponents would be beyond his ability. He was also unaware at that time that the landlord’s son lives in the apartment he wants to get into which is probably why the situation does not escalate then and there. Instead, he is let in by the Landlady and kills her with her son unaware of the danger she is in just a room away.  The son then leaves to plant hidden cameras around the tenents’ apartments and to try to film some live porn with his handheld camcorder. But it is not long before one of the tenents, a friend of the landlord credited as Taxi Driver, comes to visit his friend and try to get a peek of the soccer match that his wife won’t let him watch. He is also caught unaware by the fury of 2YO and is killed even though he manages to disarm the younger man first. However, the murderer could not expect that yet another tenent, called Water Purifier Woman, would come wandering into the apartment as well since the door was unlocked. He chasers her up to the roof and kills her there, leaving her body in an ironic location before he returns to the third floor apartment to wait for the landlord’s son.  He does, however, make on detour into a different apartment where he rapes and murders the occupant.  Finally, he encounters the son who blames the theft of the virtual goods on his father before he too is killed. Prior to being killed he dials his father’s number and hands his phone off to the murderer. From the sound of the ringing, 2yO is able to track the location of the landlord, now stuffed in an oversized piece of luggage in Fund Manager’s apartment bringing the killers in contact with each other. As the tagline promises us seven murders, we know that not everyone is getting out of this alive.

While there were quite a few things I did not like about the movie, in particular the confusion surrounding some of the characters and their actions, I did like the surprising twists near the end.  Actually, part of the ending has to be assumed since we never actually see the murder to know conclusively how the story ended, yet with the tagline there should be no doubt about what happened in that final encounter. However, should I have to rely on the tagline on the poster to be able to figure out the end of a film? It seems like far too much work and I assume that the majority of the people who watch this movie are left with a question mark as to whether there were one or two survivors of that night.  While I normally like a film that does NOT explain everything to me and I have to reason out events or conclusions for myself, that is going too far. I did like how the viewers are forced to watch and then connect the dots regarding the death of the woman credited as Na Ju-ri Look-Alike. While I thought it was completely out of character for 2yO to kill her..let alone rape her <entirely distasteful and unnecessary to the story>.. I thought it was interesting how it was revealed. Someone, possibly Rooftop Girl, sees 2YO climbing down an electrical wire outside the apartment buiding after killing Water Purifier Lady and calls the police. We never see the call being made, but the police do show up sending more than one resident of Paradise Villa into a panic.  They visit the apartment of Na Ju-ri Look Alike and are greeted by her roommate who checks on her friend. From her comment about Na Ju-ri sleeping naked, we can later put together that something had happened.  However it only comes together after Landlord’s Son sneaks into the room and retrieves his hidden camera..also not realizing the woman on the bed is dead.  He goes home, puts in the tape to review, and is promptly attacked by 2YO who was back hiding in the Landlord’s apartment. Depending on where you are watching, you will either see the two young men in a life or death struggle or the rape/murder of the young woman on the television screen. If you are watching the latter, you are able to piece together events that were not directly revealed to us.

Unfortunately, I was not able to piece together the events taking place in the first floor apartment where the host and his wife have people over to watch the soccer game. One of the guests has bet against Korea in favor of Japan and  from his remarks throughout the movie, he seems to be the director’s mouthpiece over his dissatisfaction with Korean society. However, his criticisms take no clear form other than ‘Everything is not alright with Korea.’ Frankly, I expected more from director Park who’s previous works included the powerful Guro Arirang and Our Twisted Hero..both with strong messages meant as social critiques.  Incidently, I wonder why those two films are not on DVD.. both are excellent especially Our Twisted Hero…

I seem to recall reading somewhere that this film takes place during the Korea/Japan World Cup event of 2002, but I want to clarify that it does not.  One character does chear “Hurrah World Cup 2002!” it was simply to give himself an alibi and draw attention to himself, not to set the time. The match being watched on the television was a Korea VS Japan match– possibly just a friendly match as the host nations would not need qualifying matches.  Soccer games between these two nations always garner a lot of attention locally and keep most people glued to the televsion screens, epecially these days with anti-Japanese sentiments on the rise again.

It was also interesting, although annoying to type in a review/synopsis of the film, how the characters were not named. In the credits they were either given a moniker based on their jobs, like Piano Teacher, even though we never see them working, or they are called by their room number as in the first floor people, ‘Room 103 Man’.  One person in Room 103 is apparently named Sang-tae <which means either Status Quo or The Current State in Korean>. We learn this when the soccer game is finished and someone says ‘Wake Sang-tae’ –just before the discontented, anti-Korea man also in the apartment, erupts into violence and smashes a bottle over someone..presumably Sang-tae’s.. head.  Clearly, and especially if the name was meant to mean Status Quo, the violent awakening has meaning.  However, this is not something you would ever pick up on if one is forced to rely only on the English subtitles.

While Paradise Villa suffers in comparison to any of director Park Jong-won’s previous films, and was in fact his last film to date, it was not bad. The main problem I had was the lack of clarity in both the story and the veiled or unspecific social criticism.  I think a little more work was needed to tighten the story and sharp the critique, it would have been quite good.  Paradise Villa is available on DVD with English subtitles and might be worth the time tracking down if you are willing to put effort into sorting out the tale as it unfolds and have the patience to sit through a lot of gratutious shots of homemade porn…

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