Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In short: Head (2011)

(Not the one with the Monkees)

Original title: He-deu

World famous South Korean scientist Professor Kim (Oh Dal-soo) is dead. Someone with a quite peculiar sense of humour steals the poor guy's head while the corpse is transported to the funeral home and replaces it with a watermelon.

Kim's head reappears in a package bike courier Sin Hong-je (Ryoo Deok-hwan) is transporting. A near-collision with what will (ironically) later turn out to be the main instigator of the great head robbery of '11 - Professor Oh (also Oh Dal-Soo) - opens the package and leaves Hong-je in a panic. The young man makes his way back to his company office where he encounters his very dead looking boss and a murderous mortician (Baek Yoon-sik) who really really wants that head, and will do anything to get it, including murdering innocent bike couriers.

Hong-je escapes the mortician for long enough to hide the head. When the mortician eventually catches the courier, he takes it as his best bet to kidnap Hong-je and either torture the head's hiding place out of him or use him as a hostage against whoever has the ruddy thing now.

That "whoever" will eventually be Hong-je's sister, the disgraced TV journalist Hong Joo (Park Ye-jin). Hong Joo's not a woman to be trifled with and will snark, scream, shout, and cry her way through an astonishing assortment of freaks - a dangerous Christian cleric using his homes for the elderly as a repository for illegal organ trade and his elderly as useful shock troops, a corrupt cop, etc. - until she not only has her brother back but in the process broken a career making story. Hooray for the power of the free press.

Head is the directorial debut of South Korean Cho Un, and it sits smack dab in the middle of the peculiar mix of black comedy and thriller South Korean (and Japanese) cinema loves so well, where skewed characters with a bit more depth than one is used to from most Western comedies fight through slightly absurd situations that are presented with the straightest of faces.

There is one thing a comedy of this type needs to do right to be effective instead of just a random assortment of scenes of dry zaniness. If you ask me, that most important thing for a film like Head is to know when to stop making another joke. There's nothing worse than a black comedy that doesn't know when to stop with its diversions into random directions and sacrifices its comical flow to stuff more ideas in than it can carry. For the most part, Cho Un does know what he does in this respect. The film's beginning might jump around a bit too much - rather like a nervous race dog before the starting shot - but once it gets going, it's as tight as it is drily silly.

This tightness is particular important in a film that is not only a black comedy but also a chase thriller that may play its violence and action for laughs to a degree yet also wants to keep up an amount of excitement appropriate for the thriller genre.

So Head has the basics of what it's supposed to do down pat. Unfortunately it doesn't do much that's particularly original, emotionally involving, or plain bizarre with them, keeping with tried and true jokes about nerdy sociopaths, family loving killers that have been just the decisive bit funnier in other movies that came before, and the usual "aw, shucks, our heroine really loves her family" sentimentality. It all adds up to a movie that's technically very proficient and an all around solid good time, but not more.


No comments: