Movie Review: 4th Period Murder Mystery
Rating: 7/10 ***See comments section below for my rating system
As a whole, this movie was a good watch. It had its fun and quirky moments, suspense and thrill, and also a lot of teen drama. However, it lacked some crucial elements that would have made it even better. After watching, I can honestly say that this movie would be a fun Saturday afternoon viewing experience, but please do not expect greatness. Cuteness sure, but greatness, not so much.
4th PERIOD MURDER MYSTERY REVIEW
4th Period Murder Mystery revolves around a smart teen named HAN JEONG-HUN (Yoo Seung-ho) who is well-liked by numerous female admirers, but acts somewhat like a loner (reminds me of Baek Seung-jo from Playful Kiss). He finds himself the prime suspect in the murder of a fellow classmate and only has one period, the equivalent of 40 minutes, to find out who the real killer is. He is aided by our leading lady LEE DA-JEONG (Kang So-ra) who is eccentric and fascinated by murder mysteries. Put the genius together with the intuitive mystery junkie, and we get: one odd couple.
The partnership between them is pretty good. They have some chemistry and even have the whole awkward teen behavior down. But in all honesty, I’ve seen Yoo Seung-ho have better chemistry with other lead actresses (like in his current drama Warrior Baek Dong-soo). For the purposes of this movie though, their connection worked.
Character-wise, I have to say my interest was drawn more towards Da-jeong than to Jeong-hun. She, for me, was far more interesting. As a quirky, lonely, book-obsessed outcast, her character was captivating because she was so different and, in my opinion, far smarter than Jeong-hun. I thought making the heroine more intuitive than the main lead was great.
This is not to say I didn’t like Jeong-hun. He was cute and had his own brilliant moments too, but nothing compared to Da-jeong, especially in the beginning.
The pair of them really did add to the romantic dramedy aspect of the film which made it fun to watch, and also added a secondary layer of plot and character development. Mainly, these characters developed a sense of connection with each other that allowed them to open up and trust people.
The scene in which Jeong-hun and Da-jeong had to kiss in order to prevent discovery by another classmate was so funny, cute, and awkward that you couldn’t help but squeal. (I did. Twice!) The attraction between them developed gradually as the film went on, adding small touches, such as little stares, smiles and acts of chivalry. The cute youthful high school love story was what really kept me interested.
We can’t forget about supporting characters either. There were some pretty good ones that I thought deserved some recognition.
Professor Han Kang-man, aka crazy dog (Park Cheol-min) was quite splendid. In fact the scene in which teacher Han begins to cry after discovering the body and associating Jeong-hun with his son was really heartbreaking and in my opinion a great surprise in the course of this movie. I really appreciated his acting abilities here and have enjoyed him in other films like Sector 7 and Cyrano Dating Agency.
We also have Kim Tae-gyu (Jo Sang-geun), the problem child with a cunning hold on people, and the unfortunate victim in this high school murder plot. I think he played the misunderstood, troubled youth well. At some points, specifically during the scenes when he displayed anger, I thought he was a little over-the-top, but it was still manageable. And of course we have under-appreciated teacher Kang Gook-man (Jeong Seok-yong) as well as Margarine Butter and Cheese, totally greasy womanizer Byeong-soo (Jeon Joon-hong) who played the royal douche bag excellently.
Surprisingly, the actresses did not put up a great showing mainly because they didn’t have many parts to play or scenes to be in. I was a little disappointed by this because I felt like it was so male-biased.
Story-wise, it is set up kind of like a Murder She Wrote episode. (And yes I do make that reference because I love Murder She Wrote. For anyone who does not know, it’s an old-time murder/mystery television series in America.) What I mean by this is that most of the pieces of evidence can be discovered by the main investigators quite easily and there is a decoy suspect, someone who you think is definitely the murderer, and the true murderer. So in terms of originality, I’d have to say that it is a pretty old scenario in terms of murder and suspects, but puts a spin on it by setting it in high school.
One thing I wish they did do was make all of the evidence clear throughout the movie so that there was a chance the audience could figure out who the murder was prior to the finale. The entire time I was trying to discern evidence and determine who the murder could be, but there was no way, other than guessing, that anyone could have figured out who the murder was without having the final clues (revealed during the last 15 minutes of the movie), which frustrated me. Part of the reason mysteries are exciting is because they give the audience an opportunity to play detective and find out what happened, like in Oldboy. This was one of the most disappointing aspects for me and kind of brought down my love for the movie overall.
I will give credit where credit is due and say that the ploy of using a masked murderer assailant to recreate the actions of the murder was a pretty clever way to leave the audience guessing while still providing visuals to help us follow the line of evidence.
Character development was also kind of lacking. So we are given a glimpse into what the lead characters are like based on their interactions with each other, but there is absolutely no backstory. Essentially we are told that Jeong-hun is ranked #1 in all of Korea in academics and that Da-jeong is not sociable, but why? Why is Jeong-hun so smart and why has Da-jeong reverted into her own world of mystery and murder? I feel like this movie could have brought itself to a very different area had they tried to include a backstory behind our leads and what made them the way they are. It would have also helped in terms of creating true development of the characters over the course of the film. I personally would have loved to know why Da-jeong was so reclusive and obsessed with death. (It kind of reminds me of the anime Wallflower, for any anime fans out there.)
Besides character development issues and lack of intrigue in terms of playing detective, I did like the fact that the movie never lets us forget that the leads were teenagers. They may be intelligent teenagers, but they are still naïve and inexperienced.
For instance, the scene where Jeong-hun and his best friend Do-il (Kim Dong-beom) are peeping at the hot swimmer girl was so fitting because Jeong-hun looks like a deer caught in headlights and honestly reminds me of the boys back at my old high school. Not to mention how cute it is that he is so awestruck by a girl’s beauty.
The same goes for Da-jeong. She is so often straight-faced and serious that you forget that she is a teenage girl. But the movie throws us small reminders of her adolescence such as the part where she pauses in the hallway after having been kissed, I think maybe for the first time, and touches her lips gently and smiles. That scene was really charming and reminded me of a good old rom-com moment.
Before moving on to cinematography, I have one more bone to pick in terms of plot and use of precious story time. There was an abundance of running scenes in this movie. I counted, and in fact 23 minutes of this film are spent on chase scenes which just baffles me. Why the writer could not have taken 10 of those minutes and added more character backstory or even more evidence-revealing scenes is beyond me. I felt like I was in the middle of a Public Service Announcement encouraging me to run for my health.
Now onto an aspect that actually was quite good: Cinematography.
Given the nature of the film, which was sometimes dark and sometimes playful, I did not expect the excellent level of artistic direction. For instance, upon discovery of the body, Da-jeong immediately leaps into action by closing all doors, grabbing her detective kit, and drawing all the shades. When she’s pulling the curtains, the screenshot is so beautiful and artistic I was kind of in awe. It’s a simple scene of pulling a curtain closed, but it still shocked me to have such a beautifully crafted shot in a film about a high-school murder.
Another amazing shot was when the librarian goes to the roof of the school and feels the wind on her face and looks up at the sky. This is a classic pose to illustrate losing yourself in the moment, but it is done with such beauty that I was really quite struck.
These are not the only instances of great camera set-ups — they are evident throughout the film and impressed me thoroughly. I did not expect such incredible level of skill and artistic distinction to present itself in such a movie. I actually think had the plot been a little more substantial, maybe a few more twists and turns, and maybe even a little darker to follow the solemn theme, this film could have been really great.
The film also included these excerpts of clocks and gears that I actually really enjoyed. It kept reminding me of the time constraint: less than 40 minutes to catch the murderer. I guess you could call it a symbol, although a literal one for the audience to remember time as a big issue.
Aside from the camerawork, I also have to mention special effects and level of gore. I will say that there were one or two parts where the actual act of killing and use of blood could make those who are not fond of gory scenes a little unsettled, but I promise you that actual images of stab wounds or injuries are not visible, only the blood.
One of the coolest special effects was the scene in which one of the students was poisoned and began to foam at the mouth. I say cool because it was very realistic (and I say realistic from experience being a medical student and having seen this actually happen). The set-up of the body is also well done, albeit that’s more an excellent use of staging techniques and scene captures.
This film was, for the most part, a little light in tone, considering the circumstances. I mean despite murder hanging in the air, there still manages to be comedy and a slight ease to the characters’ demeanors. Now we get into what I think is a really important component of all films, the themes.
I think one of the most striking themes was femininity as a marker for beauty. Da-jeong, in my opinion, was not pretty because she put her hair up or dressed in a more feminine outfit, but because her mind was powerful and her judgment was spot on. I just hate when movies, and especially dramas, make the heroine undergo a radical transformation into this high-glamour beauty queen and say that she is beautiful now. That is just not true.
I would rather have a nerdy, not-so-well-dressed girl over a glamazon any day. I think this kind of gender association is quite irritating and one that I don’t agree with. Yes I understand that personality still plays a major role in attraction within the context of Korean cinema and that the transformation is more of a symbol for a change in the character, but why does it have to be this way? Why can’t a transformation in attitude or in interpersonal reactions be a symbol for change as well?
This distinction of beauty and femininity leads to another very prevalent concept that I have seen in many Korean, as well as American, movies and/or dramas: the concept of different being bad. This is probably one of the oldest conflicts, but why is it that being different from others automatically makes you a social outcast? For instance, Da-jeong likes murder-mysteries, which is construed as weird and different, so much so that the kids in her class stray away from her.
I realize that there is a bit of psychology in the whole being different from the norm, creating an out-group and things of that nature, but I really think it comes down to a personal decision. I mean if everyone was really the same we would all be walking automatons with no artistic freedom of our own, and sites such as Dramabeans would not exist. (Shudder at the thought!) I honestly think this movie, indirectly of course, hints at this theme of non-acceptance for those who are different.
I at least liked the fact that the film made me reevaluate these topics, which quite frankly I had forgotten about since high school, since I’m now in pretty open and accepting environments.
The movie also used a quote by Robespierre, an 18th-Century French politician and pseudo-philosopher, as the basis for an intriguing look into crime and innocence. Da-jeong reiterates the quote twice, in different contexts:
Da-jeong: Crime butchers innocence to secure a throne and innocence fights with all of its might against the attempts of crime.
I kind of like it when movies do this, introduce a concept via an old quote or book to stimulate thought in the audience. Although in this case, had the tone of the movie been graver and focused on the horrific nature of murder, this quote would have been better served. It does give us an interesting look into the mind of Da-jeong though. It seems that even though she is obsessed with murder and mystery it does not mean she has become so convoluted as to think they are right by any means. In fact, her moral center of justice seems to be predicated upon this quote which simply says that crime is the opposite of innocence and they struggle to overcome one another.
The final theme I wish to discuss, the biggie, is loneliness. I think it pervaded most, if not all character storylines and influenced the actions and decisions of our characters. Da-jeong’s loneliness is pretty obvious; non-acceptance by peers, retreating into the land of books. But other characters had their own forms of loneliness.
Jeong-hun was also lonely, despite having a best friend. I think he was essentially viewed by others as so smart that he never connected with anyone on a level deeper than the superficial.
And of course our murderer was definitely a truly lonely soul. He/she was never really accepted by others and never really allowed to love; rejection was a way of life. This loneliness of never being loved lead to a warped sense of justice and justification for murder. It was his/her job to protect the one person who accepted him/her without any contingencies. I think, actually, that the loneliness of the murderer was supposed to resonate in all of the viewers, seeing that most of us have felt lonely before. We in fact could almost sympathize with why the murderer did what he/she did, and even the characters could kind of sympathize with him/her.
Loneliness is a truly powerful emotion, that can destroy people or make them stronger, but the line between the two paths is very thin. I think this is what we see from the actual characters themselves. The two leads come out of loneliness together and find themselves stronger. The murderer takes the more destructive path and ends up being the victim of his own twisted logic.
I just wanted to take a moment and thank all of you who were so kind to comment on my first movie review post and give me feedback/criticism. I took your suggestions and tried to improve upon my formatting and writing style as much as possible. I want to encourage everyone to continue to give me feedback and keep those suggestions for future movie reviews coming.
Here’s how I based my rating:
1. Genre: How does it stack up against movies in this genre?
3. Production value: Cinematography, camera work, scene set-up and visuals, as well as special effects and artistic vision.
4. Plot: Original? Carried out and developed in a unique way?
5. How much I enjoyed it.
6. Themes/Morals: Was the theme poignant or interesting? Did it have a moral backbone and did it effectively convey it?
Overall Rating: 7/10
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