Korean Film Festival 2016 Review: Inside Men (South Korea, 2016)

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Hello Asia contributor Shona Maskun reviews the hit Korean film Inside Men.

An inevitably corrupted society is revealed when hoodlum leader An Sang Goo (Lee Byung Hun) becomes entangled in political tactics between the chief editor of powerhouse news corporation Lee Gang Hee (Baek Yoon Sik), President Oh (Kim Hong Fa) of Mirae Motors, and future president candidate Jang Pil Woo (Lee Kyoung Young). Coming from a less fortunate background, police-turned-prosecutor Woo Jang Hoon (Cho Seung Woo) is out to capture Jang Pil Woo, with the help of An Sang Goo himself who seeks revenge. Will truth and justice finally be revealed? Coming from an unfinished web-comic strip by cartoonist Yoon Tae Ho, director and writer Woo Min Ho decided to pull few strings and conclude Inside Men with an unpredictable twist.

Released in two versions, Inside Men plays for two hours while Inside Men: The Original shows the full three hour-long suspense and action packed  director’s cut. Having watched both versions, I would consider Inside Men: The Original better, as though the cut was made for unnecessary scenes, such scenes actually support the storyline in some way. In The Original, it shows a scene where Lee Gang Hee and four others from Nation Daily discuss topics and headlines before pronouncing it to the public. This scene introduced the world of the media behind the curtain, and also later shows how the Nation Daily newspaper is entangled within this dirty political game. Another scene revealed the back story of Lee Gang Hee and An Sang Goo’s relationship. Although not explained in detail, we can  nevertheless see the brotherhood bond develop and understand how Sang Goo grew up under the leadership of his ‘father figure’ Gang Hee.

The movie starts off in suspense – which later on is seen as the climax – it starts off from the peak, and slowly goes down the road explaining the backstory that starts two years ago. It then leads back up to the same climax and comes to a nice conclusion. This is a rather risky perspective to play with, as audiences might get lost in the middle and get confused due to the amount of characters introduced along the way. However I find that after watching the movie twice, it is in fact more exciting as the plot lines then become much clearer.

“This country is all about connection.”

It seems that all ‘connections’ each characters makes are not based on pure intentions; there’s always a hidden agenda behind it. Even the three powerhouses Lee Gang Hee, Jang Pil Woo, and President Oh may call themselves ‘friends’, but they all needed each other for their own benefits. Nation Daily needed Mirae Motors in order for their business to run, while Jang Pil Woo needed the money for his campaign from Mirae, and Mirae Motors uses Jang Pil Woo as their puppet to gain power in society. Even the relationship between Sang Goo and Jang Hoon first developed because they both needed each other for reach their own goals; Sang Goo seeking revenge while Jang Hoon wanted the fame.

Even though the setting is modern-day, the movie has a ‘noir’ feel to it. With the retro background music and songs that Sang Goo sings, it seems very fitting for this political/gangster movie. As for the camera movement, there were some really beautiful framings; one of which was when Jang Hoon drives his car in the city and the camera was moving along from the right side, showing a clear view of the road. Another one when Sang Goo was walking with his henchmen’s down the container alley and the camera was following them from a birds’ eye view. The camera movement is very controlled and subtle; almost impossible to notice, keeping the viewers eyes drawn to the scene or characters in a highly professional manner.

“Then you should’ve done better. Or been born better”

This movie points out all the societal issues that are happening today; how your background and connections are gold and how without it you are simply nothing. It shows how in politics people look out for themselves and that no such thing as justice or truth still exists. However this movie introduces a glimpse of hope through character Woo Jang Hoon. Even though in the beginning he was introduced as a pathetic, hard-working worker that was just a laughing stock to his seniors, in the end he still manage to climb his way up with his own skills while staying honest to justice. Even at the very end when we thought he would jump to Lee Gang Hee’s side, he surprised us through the press conference. He is a symbol of hope and teaches us that nothing is impossible to accomplish even in the most impossible situations. He fights through it all and ends up the hero.

The movie was executed very well; every dialogue and every scene was there for a reason. It was such a shame that an hour of that was chopped off for the actual premiere. The plot was laid out carefully and slowly pieced itself together as the story goes on. Each of the actors played their part beautifully and made it so believable and deserve high praise for those efforts.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Inside Men screened in Australia as part of the Korean Film Festival