Friday, August 04, 2017

'Ordinary Person' Is a Powerful Crime Drama

Ordinary Person is a South Korean crime drama film set in 1987 about a dedicated policeman named Kang Sung-jin (Son Hyun-joo), whose biggest dream is to improve the standard of living of his mute wife and lame son.  During his latest case, which involves catching a slithery hoodlum, he arrests an imbecile named Kim Tae-sang (Jo Dal-hwan) who confesses to a murder after spending some time in custody.  Soon, Sung-jin is summoned by the ruthless, scheming National Security Planning chief Cho Gyu-nam (Jang Hyuk).  Using Sung-jin’s sense of patriotism as well as the temptation of material favors, Gyu-nam tasks the policeman to build a serial murder case against his suspect.  Sung-jin’s journalist friend Chu Jae-jin (Kim Sang-ho), who is investigating the government’s corruption, thinks there’s something off with the case and urges Sung-jin to drop it.  However, Sung-jin is unable to do so as he’s already in too deep with Gyu-nam’s conspiracy, especially since he needs the money for his son’s operation.

This is one of the best-made drama films I’ve ever seen.  It’s very absorbing, mostly impeccably paced, and stimulates both the emotion and mind.  It makes you think.  It makes you cringe.  It makes you angry.  And it breaks your heart.
I’m not much familiar with Korean history; thus, the depiction of the climate of its featured time period was new to me.  Firstly, police brutality is a norm, and I like how this element is played out for laughs in the beginning, but then it eventually takes a dark, sobering turn later on.  I also find it fascinating that South Korea’s political scene reflected the Philippines’ during the 80’s.  Democracy is a sham.  Human rights are virtually non-existent.   The System is corrupt and oppressive.  And those in power are unashamedly self-serving and manipulative, readily using anti-communism sentiments to serve their own interests.

There are some “whys” I didn’t understand.  It’s somewhat hard to read between the lines because I lack significant awareness of what was going on in its background (example, I’m not quite sure what Gyu-nam and the regime he represents will gain from promoting a serial killer case).  Nonetheless, by itself, the narrative remains powerful.  And its message is generally relatable, as the themes it presents basically exists today in some form or another, regardless of where you are in the world.  Although, it will probably resonate more to Korean audiences, who have more familiarity with its historical context.
I think the key to this film’s potency is the well-realized characterization of its main character, Kang Sung-jin.  He’s fleshed out quite effectively that you get to sympathize with him and understand where he’s coming from.  His various struggles and failures are affecting, and through the perspective of his arc, the disturbing time in Korean history he’s living in is emphatically painted.

The two lead actors carried this movie magnificently.  Son Hyun-joo thoroughly brings intense emotional authenticity to the poor, conflicted, grounded Kang Sung-jin.  Meanwhile, ever since seeing him Beautiful Mind, I’ve always thought Jang Hyuk would make a fantastic villain since he has this permanent venomous, smirky expression, and indeed, he knocked it out of the park as Cho Gyu-nam.  The supporting cast is great, too, especially Kim Sang-ho as Chu Jae-jin.  He was really great as the clownish, badass monk in Bring It On, Ghost, and just a while ago, I saw him play a deeply despicable thug in Fabricated City.  But in this movie, his character utterly embodies the courageous, noble reporter (a rare and drying breed these days) and contributes to so much feels (SPOILERS: he’s actually the titular “ordinary person”).  It’s amazing how Kim Sang-ho is both believable and effective as a horrible, intimidating villain and a benevolent, good-hearted hero – a testament to his immense talent as a character actor.
The only thing I didn’t appreciate about this movie is how it chose to end.  It does the same “multiple endings” that Return of the King is commonly ridiculed for (a masterpiece, regardless).  This actually made the narrative wrap-up a tad weak, despite the forceful momentum leading to that.  But aside from this, I find this movie perfect for what it is.  (I love one of the “endings” though – the courtroom scene three decades later.)

Ordinary Person is highly recommended watching, especially to those who have a taste for some heavy, thoughtful drama.

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