Korean Film Festival 2016 Review: The Office (South Korea, 2015)

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The Office  (오피스) is a glimpse of Korean society workplace where colleagues sees each other as rivals and fitting in is the only way to get accepted. Lee Mirae (Go Ah Sung) is an intern who gets bullied and used by her superiors. All but one, Kim Byeong Guk (Bae Sung Woo), who see her as himself, was kind and caring towards her. Mirae who looks up to Byeong Guk couldn’t believe when the news came out that he committed brutal murder towards his whole family and is now on the run. The fear haunts the office, paranoia filled their heads, and one by one people are dying. Detective Jong Hoon (Park Sung Woong) determined to capture the culprit and solve this case. Would he be able to save them before it’s too late?

“I’m off to work, where i sweat blood and savage beasts prey on one another.”

As a gory genre I would say the movie wasn’t that successful, but as a thriller genre I would give them an applause. Every scene puts you on edge all the time, there was no moment to spare. Even from the start of the movie they decided to put the killing scene straight on, setting the intense mood high, which I think is smart. From then on they made the audience hiding behind their chairs, even for the smallest unimportant part, like when Mirae was late to work in the elevator, when the detective came to the office only to be scared twice by Mirae and the security guard, when Yeom Ha Young (Lee Chae Eun) came back to the office and was scared by her other colleague, Lee Won Suk (Park Jung Min), among the rest. But apart from that, even the whole setting, colour and background sounds was very eerie and horror-like, enhancing the whole experience. At day the office can be a hectic busy place but by night it’s gloomy and dead, lights are dimmed and the quietest noise can be heard. As for the background sound, appraisal for achieving the eerie and dark feeling only by using the ‘office’ ambiance sounds. Also, the vintage and old color tone that made the images especially looks dull and unsaturated, achieving a 90s horror movie feel rather than modern.

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We all know that rank, background and appearance matters a lot in Korean society. But The Office slightly takes it to another level. The bullying towards Mirae was visible when the company itself had kept her for 5 months, when she should have gone full time in 3 months and in the end she loses her position to the new intern Shin Da Mi (Son Soo Hyun). Other examples are how her director and colleagues treated her so badly, they always saw her in a lower level. All she does is prepare coffees, laying presentation copies and contributed only small part of the company’s report (not even allowed to take part in doing the report, all because she’s an intern). In the end, Mirae could not compete with the new intern Da Mi who have everything that she doesn’t, the appearance, the high background and the rank.

No one would suspect that the bloody murder in the office was none other than Kim Byeong Guk ‘doppelganger’ Lee Mirae. However there were some hints shown here and there if you pay close attention. In the beginning, before Kim Byeong Guk went and kill his whole family he was seating on a cafe looking down to his coffee. Later on along the way, Lee Mirae sat down at the same spot looking down at her coffee. It was trying to tell us that it was at that time she started to become ‘Byeong Guk’. There was also a time when Mirae was in the bathroom crying and one of her colleague was mentioning how Mirae reminded her of Byeong Guk because of their similar personality. Another time was when Kim Byeong Guk told Mirae in one of the flashback that he happened to get the knife from one of their colleague before the colleague committed a suicide, the knife was passed down to indicate who will be the next killer. Mirae was already on the edge all these time, but when the new intern Da Mi came and dangered her spot, it throws her off the cliff and she snaps.

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It was interesting how they play a lot with perspective and psychological aspect. After such shocking news of Byeong Guk, the whole office filled with paranoia in their heads. The first one was Jung Jae Il (Oh Dae Hwan) who committed suicide, the craziness drove him mad and resulted in him hanging himself. It was later explained that Byeong Guk already died on the day the elevator had a malfunction, which means he couldn’t have killed Jae Il. Alternate theory could make Mirae as the killer, but it was never fully justified in the end. But for the other victims, it was clearly shown that Mirae killed them. All the victims though saw her as Byeong Guk, because of their clouded head they thought it was Byeong Guk who killed them. Several hallucinations encourage their belief, the director when he thought he saw Byeong Guk in the parking lot, the manager who thought she saw Byeong Guk under the desk, even Mirae who thought she chatted with him online. Every time the colleagues were on their last dying breath, the vision of Mirae changed to Byeong Guk. Even to the last scene when Lee Won Suk was obviously facing Lee Mirae, he still questioned her identity, “What are you? Who are you?” “This isn’t Lee Mirae”

Is this what the Korean society go through? The pressure that they went through pushed them into two different path – either they become aggressive and turned into a psycho serial killer or they become submissive and end up taking their own life. Just like when Byeong Guk told Mirae, “there are only two kinds of people in this world, and I think you’re the same kind as me,” this statement can mean a lot of things, but in this context categorizing them both as ‘the same’. Another hint stating how Mirae will eventually become like him.

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Most of the camera shots have that handheld effect and using a first person point of view, like when detective Jong Hoon introduce himself, the camera was looking at each of the office workers as if it’s from Jong Hoon eyes itself. The handheld effect made it more raw and also suitable when using first person point of view. This perspective was mostly used as well to scare the audience, one of it was from the security guard point of view when he was walking behind the detective, also Won Suk point of view when he scared Ha Young from the back. But most of the first point of view comes from the victim just when they are about to die. It’s putting the audience not as just the ‘audience’ but as the victim itself, enhancing the thrill and intense life and death moment.

In the end, there were a lot of things that The Office could have done better. The killing scenes could have shown more brutally and gory, if that’s what they want to achieve. The flashback scenes are too vague and not distinctive enough with the present day scenes, which making it confusing. Also, there were many loose ends and unexplained things left bare, like what motive could Byeong Guk have to killed his entire family instead of his office workers that he bears hatred on? Was it guilt then that made him commit suicide? What happened to Mirae then after the tragedy? I guess there are a thing or two that better left untold to make the whole conclusion rather mysterious and hanging.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)