Fantastic Fest Day 3


South Korea is one of the most interesting countries in the world for genre filmmaking, with output ranging from downright disturbing (“Oldboy”) to gleefully insane (“The Good, the Bad, the Weird”). Any time a film at Fantastic Fest hails from South Korea, it’s going to be worth seeing. “Confession of Murder” is no exception. Blending satire with crime thriller, the film packs some impressive action scenes on top of some clumsy social commentary.

Fifteen years after a Korean town was terrorized by a serial killer, homicide cop Choi (Jae-yeong Jeong) is haunted by his inability to catch the murderer, who left him with a grotesque scar on his face. Once the statute of limitations has expired on the murders, Lee Du-sok (Shi-hoo Park) writes a book confessing that he was the killer, causing Choi to reopen his hunt for the final victim, whose body was never recovered.

What emerges is a film that’s more “Network” than “I Saw the Devil,” with a rabid cult of followers springing up around Lee, and Choi being brought onto television to publicly debate the alleged killer. However, most of the film’s satirical undertones are fairly obvious and inelegantly deployed, while its thriller elements are roundly superior.

In just a handful of action scenes, Byeong-gil Jeong firmly establishes himself as a skilled director. While this is his narrative debut, Jeong directed a documentary about South Korean stunt drivers, and he clearly picked up a few things up, staging a hugely thrilling car chase that packs the best stunt work this side of “Death Proof.” Other action scenes are creatively staged, with visceral, effective camerawork and plenty of memorable beats.

The film’s finale hinges on a series of big twists, and it’s rare that a film’s final carpet tug can be genuinely surprising and logical in the context of the story, but “Confession of Murder” sticks the landing to an impressive degree. A series of revelations dramatically build to a well-staged final showdown, but Jeong unfortunately fumbles the climactic moment, turning the film’s apex into an understated, jarringly quiet moment.

While “Confession of Murder” doesn’t perfect the balance between social commentary and white-knuckle action, it’s a strong script, directed with typically dynamic South Korean flair. It’s far from the best film to ever come out of the country, but it’s also an unpredictable, exciting ride that’s worth seeking out once it releases in the US. 

From Chinese director Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) comes “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons”, one of the most energetic movies to play Fantastic Fest so far. The film’s plot is simple: a series of animalistic demons are plaguing ancient China, and lackluster demon hunter Xuan Zang (Zhang Wan) fumbles his way into dispatching them, one by one. The film’s first half moves with infectious glee, but the episodic structure starts to lag. When it picks up speed again for a rousing finale, “Journey to the West” is effortlessly engaging, and with maybe 20 minutes trimmed from it, it would be one of the best films of the festival.

Meanwhile, Drafthouse Films’ “Borgman” is one of the festival’s strangest. The absurdist home invasion film documents a homeless man’s slow infiltration of an upper class Dutch family, but the tragically underwritten characters frustrate with their passivity, allowing their lives to be ruined with little-to-no resistance. The auxiliary characters, like a nanny who works for the family or the titular character’s roving troupe of hobos, are mostly undeveloped, which is frustrating as they become essential to the film’s final result. Despite compelling moments and strong performances, “Borgman”’s lacking script simply can’t justify its characters’ inaction, making for a frustrating experience.