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[Herald Review] Good acting eclipsed by rookie directing in ‘The Culprit’

Both Song Sae-byeong and Yoo Sun are quality actors, but it has been quite some time since either of them benefited from a good script or decent directing.

One more unfortunate example of this is the upcoming mystery thriller “The Culprit” by director Go Jung-wook, a jumbled pile of pretentious plots that are convoluted and confusing for all the wrong reasons. A twist for twist’s sake is never the right choice, a note that the director apparently didn’t get for his first feature film.

The film revolves around Yeong-hun (Song), whose wife was murdered, and Da-yeon, whose husband -- who also happens to be Yeong-hun’s best friend -- has been arrested as the main suspect.

In denial, Da-yeon desperately asks for help from Yeong-hun, who in return asks for her help finding out who really killed his wife. The emotionally unhinged pair set off on a twisted journey where neither party knows who or what to trust.

“The Culprit” (Little Big Pictures)
“The Culprit” (Little Big Pictures)

The convoluted plot is mucked up further by the strange editing. Shifting back and forth between the past and present is nothing new -- it can even add drama if done right, as shown in the immortal genius of “Godfather Part II” -- but here it just seems pointless, pretentious and confusing. The movie deliberately leads the audience down a jagged path that is supposed to build suspense, when in reality it is just a mix of predictable and pointless plot points.

The performance by the two leads is commendable, particularly in Yoo’s case. When the director at the helm seems clueless as to where to navigate his ship, Yoo and Song shine with their heartfelt, energetic performance in this floundering flick.

Yoo really takes over the film, depicting in detail the various emotions her character is experiencing, toying with audience members’ emotions as they are sucked into her explosive performance. Song is somewhat different, portraying a character whose obsession has him slowly and quietly sinking into madness.

Despite their admirable attempt, neither character manages to reach viewers’ hearts because the film was written and directed so poorly.

The narrative and plot development seem forced and lacking in rhyme or reason, as does the head-scratching decision made in the final “twist.” I’ll give the film credit for catching me and a lot of other viewers off guard: No, I didn’t see that coming, but that is probably because I wasn’t looking anymore.

“The Culprit” opens in local theaters July 10.

By Yoon Min-sik