“Confession of Murder” – 2013 New York Asian Film Festival Review

In Jeong Byeong-Gil’s “Confession of Murder” (내가 살인범이다), a psychologically wrecked cop suddenly wakes up from his depressed haze when he sees a matinee idol on his television screen.  The serial killer-turned-author is selling books about how he murdered 10 women years ago, while his K-pop star smile is throwing virtual darts at the expired statute of limitations, meaning that he cannot be prosecuted.  The book tour rouses the cop’s interest because he was the last one to let the murderer get away, and has the lingering unpredictable temper and physical scars to prove it.

Better known as a TV star, Park Si-hoo takes on a foe in "Confession of Murder." On top of a moving car. While wearing a bathrobe. (photo courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Better known as a TV star, Park Si-hoo takes on a foe in “Confession of Murder.” On top of a moving car. While wearing a bathrobe. (photo courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center)

With a synopsis such as this one, there were a number of genres that Jeong could have gone with.  A dark comedy dissecting the idea of the villain as celebrity.  An action movie with a multitude of mistaken identities and gut-punching fight scenes.  A drama that explores the twisted psyches of those who kill and those who are directly affected by the slain.  Unfortunately, the major issue with “Confession of Murder” is that it can’t quite figure out what it wants to be, jerking the viewer around as violently as some of the victims in the numerous car chase sequences that dot the film.

“Confession of Murder” starts promisingly enough when Detective Choi Hyung-gu (Jung Jae-Young) chases his nemesis, a serial killer who he has not been able to catch, across rooftops and through dark alleys.  Instead of successfully handcuffing the man, he quickly finds himself the loser in this game.  Two years later, Choi is down and out, preferring to retrace his old steps in an attempt to see what details he missed or to pass out, hung over, on his mother’s couch.  Enter Lee Doo-suk (Park Si-hoo), whose slick public relations team and security detail follows his every move as he suavely charms the press and the people into buying his book (“Killer Smile | Doosuk Love” pin-up posters, anyone?).  Thrown into the mix is a ragtag group of victims’ associates concocting a poor man’s “Ocean’s Eleven” George Clooney-Brad Pitt scheme, which eventually intersects with the main story.

The first hour of the film includes a combination of unfunny caricatures, dangerous action scenes and violent mood swings, resulting in some very disjointed pacing.  The best elements are worthy of the excellent action films that Korea has produced time and time again over the last few years, whereas the worst really should have been left on the cutting room floor.  Things start to get more interesting during the second hour of the film, when the main foes face off not in a ring or on the street, but in the guise of a presidential debate/game show of sorts.  However, over time the drama degenerates into one preposterous plot twist and revelation after another, making an earlier car chase sequence involving vans and even a hospital stretcher seem like something children can actually try at home.

“Confession of Murder” screens at the New York Asian Film Festival on Wed., July 3, at 3 p.m. at the Walter Reade Theater, Film Society of Lincoln Center.  For tickets, go to filmlinc.com.