The cover up always causes trouble!

It isn’t the original scandal that gets people in the most trouble – it’s the attempted cover-up!

Tom Petri

Bo-Tong-sa-ram (2017)
Also known as
Ordinary Person
  Action, Crime, Drama, Film Noir, Thriller, Tragedy
Written by
 Samuel Cho
Directed by
 Kim Bong-Han
Country of Origin
 South Korea
Running time
 121 minutes 

oh! … brief

Kang Sung-jin, husband to a deaf and mute Song Jeong-sook, father to a crippled son, long-time friend to a local journalist, and a police officer with an upstanding reputation, struggles to get by on his minuscule wage while meeting the demands of his family and the frustration of his job. He has the misfortune of becoming involved in a conspiracy and cover-up planned by Choi Gyu-nam the National Security Planning Chief. His journalist friend Chu Jae-jin warns him that the cover-up will lead to more corruption but Kang Sung-jin sells himself out to ensure an operation to heal his son’s disfigurement.

Nothing good ever comes out of deception and the truth is always revealed, but how many lives will it take this time?

oh! … talks film

WOW! This is another of those mind-blowing productions that sneak up and catch you completely unaware because of the understated performances by the cast!

Ordinary Person clings to the political unrest in South Korea during the 1980’s and presents the fight of a few individuals against the corrupt political system. Selling itself as a thriller, I believe a drama is closer to a fitting genre.

The narrative itself is nothing new to the film industry, the good cop turns bad cop because of family, financial, or personal needs and because there is always a master manipulator behind the scenes, pulling the strings and playing puppet master.

Writer Samuel Cho created a solid screenplay, a believable story that the audience could buy into. Based on the first ever serial killing case in South Korea, political persuasion to solve the case was tantamount to glossing over the murders and finding a scapegoat to take the fall.

I think Samuel Cho through the story was able to show the audience just how easy it is for law enforcement to fall off the straight and narrow, and that perhaps at worst, every police officer is capable of being bribed or coerced into criminal behaviour. The story is pretty easy, a good cop is struggling to make it in life – he has a mute and deaf wife and a crippled son. His son is belittled because of his deformity and requires an operation to fix the problem and enable him to walk properly. This good cop lands a case where the suspect can be inadvertently linked to another case where a serial killer used a similar method. The serial killings need to be solved or the National Security Planning Chief looks like an idiot. So, a proposal is made, and good cop becomes a bad cop in exchange for a medical operation to fix his son’s hip disfigurement. But nothing good comes of deceptions like these. Perhaps the best part of the narrative is how the moral dilemma Kang Sung-jin faces is depicted – there is no one answer that fits the decision and the screenplay further investigates the choice Kang Sung-jin makes to toe the line and the temporary benefits.

Samuel Cho adds his own twists and turns to the overarching plot, including a journalist with a conscience and a night of horror where the good cop consequently loses the ‘things’ most precious to him. But the screenplay also addresses some potent questions and strong topical material e.g. historical content for the era – 1979 saw the end of the 18-year reign of President Park Chung-hee) and 1987 being the setting of the Hwaseong Serial Killings and the establishment of the Sixth Republic which reintroduced civil rights and reinstated elections finally ending the years of military regime. The context of the history and politics of the time is relevant to understanding how a good cop can relentlessly physically assault a suspect in order to get a confession or how a chief of national security can throw his weight around and demand a cover up. It’s mind-boggling, but entirely believable if you have lived under or within a corrupt political system.

Taking the solid screenplay, director Kim Bong-Han, produced an almost film noire styled production. The subject matter is dark and the tone of the film is dark so it is understandable that for the most part, the colour palette reflects the tone. To be honest, I watched the film through to about halfway the first time, then, I went back and started again and got to roughly the same spot. It was only watching it a third time that I completed it. There was a shift, both to the narrative and to the visual that changed at that point and I needed to see it three times to completely understand.

The cinematography was sharp – the scenes of brutality while never overtly vulgar or bloody, were violent enough to suggest the nature of the brutality was inherent with the times. The camera work accurately captures the chaos, the bitter betrayal, the miserable revenge, the political double-dealing and the inevitable backstabbing – the cinematography being steady and powerful or punchy!

The three leading actors – the mains for this production have an interpersonal dynamic that is central to the narrative and far outweighs the political overture and urgency. The screenplay is definitely livened up by the performances of the three leads.

Good cop, bad cop Kang Sung-jin is played by multi-award winning Son Hyun-joo. In this production, he has powerful screen presence and an inherent charisma. Son Hyun-joo emoted well the anxiety, stress, frustration, anger and emotional turmoil, painting an organic character struggling with his own moral compass. It was a gripping performance.

Jang Hyuk, my favourite South Korean actor succeeds again in impressing me with his interpretation of Choi Gyu-nam, corrupt and morally depraved national security chief. My attention was held captive by the calculating and icy cold façade that Choi Gyu-name exuded thanks to Jang Hyuk’s mastery at becoming his character. For the first time, I saw a side of Jang Hyuk’s acting that I haven’t been exposed to and that is the one-sided one-dimensional character delivery. But it fits with this production. Jang Hyuk also did not need to be complex or multi-layered this time, the character was pretty much exactly as he delivered, devoid of any moral integrity and emotion.

Reporter Chu Jae-jin was tackled by Kim Sang-ho. I didn’t recognize him at first and it was only in watching the second time that it dawned on me that this guy had been in Fabricated City. Once I placed him I was able to better review his performance, which in my opinion was winning. Kim Sang-ho became Chu Jae-jin – the mannerisms and body language, not to mention the way the character spoke were exactly like a journalist. I should know I deal with them almost on the daily. In fact, Kim Sang-ho’s character reminded me of a guy I knew who is now a renowned, international journalist, based out of London, but Canadian by birth.

oh! … sidekicks

Top of mind for her non-verbal supporting role is Ra Mi-ran who played Sang-jin’s mute and deaf wife Song Jeong-sook. No lines for Ra Mi-ran this time, but a much needed and central figure to the overarching narrative. I love Ra Mi-ran and this was a new side to her skills – non-verbal communication and a small role. I enjoyed her performance and look forward to her next production!

Sang-jin’s new ‘partner’, Park Dong-gyu was played by Ji Seung-hyun. His performance seemed effortless. He balanced the two sides of his character – the cop ready and able to beat the hell out of the criminals but feeling badly for it afterwards and the crooked double-agent of the chief of national security. He had me fooled, I didn’t expect him to be a truly bad, ‘bad guy’.

oh! … that’s a wrap

I enjoyed this slow burner! It takes time to get started, maybe a full half hour before you realize the ins and outs, but once it gets going it’s like a rollercoaster ride, only not as loud or obnoxious, instead, the film is nuanced and subdued, but this only heightens the meaning and exacerbates the perfidy.

I enjoyed the quiet, calculated and determined delivery. The acting was exceptional, the writing was tight, perhaps a little too tight, and then visual creativity hit just the right tones.

This film won’t appeal to viewers that are looking for the high-strung, high-emotive and fast paced Hollywood styled productions.

In my opinion, this one is a keeper and will be added to my classic collection and is one that I will watch again, and not this time because Jang Hyuk is the leading actor, instead, because Son Hyun-joo delivers an incredible performance. His character does some truly horrific things and isn’t bothered by the criminal lengths he is willing to go and his moral conscience only kicks in too late. It’s brilliant!

oh! … tidbits

Song Hyun-joo won the 2017 Best Actor award at the 39th Moscow International Film Festival and the Star Award at the 2017 Korean Film Shining Awards.

oh! … soundtrack

I will add the soundtrack when it becomes available online.

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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