When three childhood friends accidentally cause the death of '‘the greatest cop in the country,' they find themselves being blackmailed by his dodgy partner, but it is their own kidnapping scam which threatens the destruction not only of their friendships, but seemingly all around them too in this deliciously black crime comedy from Korean talent Mu-yeong Lee.
Thanks to the recent Chan-wook Park hit Oldboy, Korea has a firm footing on the cinematic radar right now so if you haven't already there is no better time to acquaint yourself with some choice flicks from this country, and why not start with Humanist. Director Mu-yeong Lee co-wrote this dark crime caper with none other than the currently-popular-in-the-West Park, a duo of proven success which together created Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a film which hasn't had the arthouse notoriety of Oldboy but has, nonetheless, enjoyed considerable outings via Blockbusters' across the land. Humanist is certainly a solid introduction to Korean film, particularly as the plot has a familiar Hollywood feel, but fear not, there are still plenty of Korean touches making this 'foreign' enough to keep the follows chatting over their continental beers.
Following the tried and tested formula of the crime caper gone awry, Humanist adds it’s own special influence to this familiar blueprint, bringing dark homour, dubious charm and some lovably despicable characters to freshen up the genre. Though faulted, this is an instantly likeable film following the exploits of three hapless, hopeless crooks that have inadvertently embroiled themselves in a needlessly complex plan. As the pressure mounts it become obvious there is no love lost between the dysfunctional trio and in a nice series of darkly charming flashbacks we can see why this particular group dynamic is rather unstable.
Jae-mo Ahn takes centre stage as Ma Te-o; the spoilt, selfish amoral rich kid whose father is a distant bully with a bizarre sexual fetish. Looking like a young Korean Christopher Walken, Ahn cuts a dapper, if inept, crime figure. ‘Helped’ dutifully by his long-standing chums (one stupid, one angry) his master plan to self-benefit from the situation soon spirals out of control. As the situation worsens (and worsens) family ties, friendships and even love are all put to the test when any semblance of morality rapidly vacates.
Though the final third of the film seems a slight move away from the rest, becoming notably slower, more unpleasant and macabre with less humour, the pace is kept at a nice even keel. The story, action and characterisation are perfectly balanced to keep you entertained and the plot moves on with pleasant speed and ease. The flashbacks are used with effectual style as well as narrative tools and so are other aspects of characterisation. Where these little touches add style they are done so sparingly and without whimsy, giving the effect of competent direction. The humour is in turns black and charming and as free as the occasional play on the heartstrings. The violence is what our friends with the monopoly on the video rentals might describe as 'infrequent, strong' and, whilst sometimes a little shocking in its sudden severity, isn’t nearly as gut-wrenching as a featured dubious home-cure.
On the downside, the ending leaves certain areas unexplained/not as complete as you may wish though there are still far more positives outweighing this. Though more use of some of the more marginal characters would have helped to balance the story out it is still carried well considering its complexity. With its competent direction, black humour, easy charm and a strangely fitting soundtrack, Humanist is a must-see for any veteran of the plot-driven crime drama or any foreign film fan alike.
Impress your friend, or even just yourself, with this quirky black comedy/crime escapade from one of Korea’s most promising new-wave of director’s. Peppered with sylised touches in just the right amount and pleasantly polished, Humanist proves the Korean's have their own stamp to place firmly on a familiar Hollywood genre 7/10 View the trailer
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