Lee Soo-yeon returns after 14 years to present the labyrinth of the human mind with “Bluebeard”

Crime thrillers are the genre Korean cinema has built its reputation upon, with a plethora of true masterpieces. Lee Soo-yeon attempts this, overvisited category, through an elaborate case and a mixture of genres.

Seung-hoon is a gastroenterologist, whose private clinic has recently closed leaving him on debt, in a series of events that has led him to a divorce from his wife and a job doing colonoscopies in another private clinic. His financial situation is even worst though, since he has to pay alimony for his son, which has led him to sell his car and having to commute each day to his work, and to live in a tiny and cramped with books apartment over a butcher shop, owned by Sung-geun. His only escape from his miserable life is crime fiction novels, which have become something of an obsession, to the point that he considers every detail in his life a clue of some mystery. His obsession is so deep, that it has led him away from his, has made him ignorant to the attention of a nurse in the clinic, and in the end, has turned him into a kind of a hermit. In that fashion, when during another colonoscopy, he listens to the father of the owner of the butcher shop mumbling clues about a murder recently revealed, he becomes obsessed with the case, and his downward spiral begins. At the same time, Sung-geun befriends him, adding vast quantities of alcohol to an already imbalanced mind.

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Evidently, the script is more than impressive. Lee Soo-yeon weaves an intricate web that extends across genres, with the film starting as a crime thriller and becoming a psychological thriller before it returns back to its first capacity, all the while retaining a sense of agony through the concept of what is real and what an illusion of a troubled mind. Lee plays with this last concept throughout the movie, with the utterly unexpected solution coming at the very end through a number of elaborate plot twists. In that aspect, the movie benefits the most by Kim Sun-min’s editing, that manages to keep a sense of disorientation in a non-confusing way, and the music that helps the most in the implementation of the thriller aesthetics. Uhm Hye-jung’s cinematography is also quite good, as it presents a claustrophobic sense through a number of cramped places where the action usually takes place.

The issue with this complexity though, is that it takes a more than 20-minute climax to tie all ends, where the information comes in the rhythm of a torrent, to the point that one can lose interest, since the finale moves in a totally different and very hasty rhythm compared to the rest of the film. This fault does not ruin the movie, but definitely has an impact in its overall impression, that could have been a lot better if the ending was visited with more patience.

An unrecognizable Cho Jin-woong, who lost nearly 40 pounds for the role, gives an astonishing performance as Seung-hoon, a man tormented by his own mind, whose life gives him no break at all. His path to disaster is the film’s biggest highlight, as Lee Soo-yeon anchors the movie on him, having him present in almost every scene, and he delivers in astonishing fashion, even managing to retain the sympathy of the viewer to the end. The other roles in the film are evidently secondary, but Kim Dae-myung manages to stand apart as Sung-geun, emitting a sense of danger despite his seemingly timid behaviour.

Lee Soo-yeon had a film that could have been a masterpiece, but failed to meet its true potential due to the hastiness in the ending. “Bluebeard,” however, definitely deserves a watch, and is bound to satisfy all fans of the category, through its script, atmosphere, and Cho Jin-woong’s acting.