Next up is a movie that’s been on my to-watch list for a while – last year’s crime thriller Blind. True to its title, it focuses on a blind protagonist’s ‘eyewitness’ account to help solve a string of serial murders. While not necessarily sweeping the box office (competing directly against Bow, the Ultimate Weapon certainly didn’t help), Blind held up well thanks to its star power and took home an award for best screenplay, with headliner Kim Haneul winning two best acting awards for her portrayal of a blind woman with serious guts.
She’s joined by Yoo Seung-ho, who does a solid job as a doubtable second witness and eventual sidekick to his blind noona. Despite the winning efforts of its two lead stars (and some memorable supporting characters), Blind is a thriller with an identity crisis, caught somewhere between slasher territory and a sophisticated crime-solving drama. Somewhere along the line it loses its footing with its sheer predictability (think Scream without the same sense of self-awareness), and ends up trying to be cooler than it is – which is never great territory for a thriller to be in.
Blind starts off with a dramatic punch, though at its core it’s a pretty standard Girl Versus Psychopath film. Our heroine ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, all set to become prey to a crazed killer, but a stroke of fate (and a stroke of bad luck for another unsuspecting soul) lands her a reprieve. Instead of sight she uses all of her other keen senses to help the police in their investigation, and soon becomes the chief target of the murderer she’s attempting to help track down.
Her quest is both helped and hindered by the appearance of a young man claiming to have actually seen the same events she describes in a different light. Of course, things change when they both become targets of the same psychopath, and their struggle to stay alive and catch the murderer forms the basis of our story.
I’m a huge fan of the horror/thriller genre, and have to give points to the film for trying hard to deliver thrills and chills. The acting is superb on the side of Good (our heroine and our reluctant hero), but on the side of Bad, the level of under-development was near criminal (har). Not every psychopath-centric movie need delve into criminal psychology, but you can’t just give us “mad surgeon” and consider yourself done, because that’s lazy.
The blind angle does add something new to the proceedings, and there’s definitely some depth to the characters hinted at without being fully explored. Unfortunately, even within the strict confines of its own genre filled with spectacular and unforgettable films, Blind manages only to remain a step above normal.
We meet our heroine, MIN SOO-AH (Kim Haneul) as a police trainee in the moments leading up to the accident which causes her blindness. She’s a sharp and clever woman clearly suited to the job, and one who’s grown up as an orphan with only a makeshift family to her name. A key member of that family is a boy she considers her younger brother despite not being actually related, and one she sees fit to save from a possibly bad lifestyle by basically kidnapping him in the beginning of the film.
In an effort to be a good older sister/mother to him despite his cries to the contrary, Soo-ah handcuffs him to the inside of her car so he won’t try to escape during the drive. Unfortunately he ends up being too incensed at his noona to realize his actions to free himself could cause an accident, which causes Soo-ah to lose control of the car and crash into the guardrail overlooking a highway below.
Soo-ah gets thrown from the car and sustains a heavy head injury, while her brother remains trapped inside of the car teetering over the edge of the bridge due to the handcuffs. The world becomes hazy as she tries to make it to him in order to save him, but she’s too heavily wounded to make it in time. The car, with her brother in it, falls over the edge of the bridge.
It’s a great emotional opening, because it’s the catalyst for Soo-ah’s blindness as well as a heavy emotional scar she carries. When we catch up to her next it’s been three years, and we see her go about her day to day life with her impairment fairly well.
Soo-ah has an overall bad couple of days as she’s rejected by the police chief to become a trainee again (he cites her carelessness in using handcuffs on her brother which resulted in his death), and almost gets hit by multiple cars despite the aid of her seeing eye dog, SEUL-GI. A trip to see her caring “Mother” from the orphanage results in some painful memories of her brother, and she rejects any help to get herself home on the basis of pride.
So we can see that she’s capable, but has bad days just like everyone else. While she’s waiting for a cab on a rainy night she instead gets picked up by a shady figure – he’s our resident psychopath, MYUNG-JIN (Yang Young-jo), and he knows an easy target when he sees one.
She thinks it’s a deluxe cab, and the movie makes no qualms about letting us know he’s our bad guy right away. Perhaps acting on instinct she rejects a drink offer of coffee from him, and the ensuing struggle to get her to drink it results in a hit-and-run.
Even from the short ride, the camera lets us know what she’s picked up on – the sounds of his watch, the expensive leather interior. She’s left in the car after the accident and hears a woman’s moan, causing her to confront the driver outside. He’s just finished putting a body in the trunk, but claims to Soo-ah that he merely hit a dog.
She knows better, and Myung-jin grows panicked when she pulls out her phone and tries to force her into the car. Luckily her trainee skills come in handy as she’s able to physically overpower him, enough so that he has to leave her on the street when another car approaches to avoid being caught.
This leads her to the police station, though no one is wiling to take her testimony seriously.
Just in case we weren’t sure about Myung-jin being a psychopath, we get treated to a scene of his underground surgical lair where he’s taken the girl he hit, and where other dead bodies remain. For a torture scene it’s actually really tame, since the events are only hinted at – he likes to work naked, and he rapes his victims before killing them. Standard stuff. This is a hint at what we get for the rest of the film, one that’s violent in nature, but also one that surprisingly shies away from getting into the details of its violence, using quick cuts and copious amounts of blood almost as a substitute for the actual violent acts.
It’s only when a missing person is reported in the same area as the hit-and-run that Soo-ah is brought back into the police station to give her blindwitness account.
The reluctant officer assigned to the case, DETECTIVE JO (Jo Hee-bong) quickly endeared himself as possibly my favorite character in the film. He’s down on his luck as an officer, always stuck with the work that no one else wants to do, and constantly gets made fun of by his colleagues for his country accent. What’s nice about him is how he’s judged for being incapable, yet he isn’t – and the same goes for Soo-ah.
This helps to make them a perfect match, as he first thinks interviewing her is a waste of time, only to be floored by how keen her senses are. She’s even able to tell his height, weight, and age just from the way his voice sounds. He’s impressed, and the two form an unlikely and likable team as he begins to rely more and more on her as the case becomes much bigger than a simple hit-and-run.
We finally get to meet KWON KI-SUB (Yoo Seung-ho), a loud-mouthed ne’er do-well who’s seen the sign at the accident site stating a reward for information and has come to give his two cents to the police. According to him it wasn’t a cab at all but an expensive foreign car, which goes directly against Soo-ah’s claims. He doesn’t hold up well under Detective Jo’s scrutiny which gives us the initial impression that he’s lying and just after a quick buck.
Ki-sub writes off Soo-ah like she’s a complete invalid, making her eyeless testimony sound silly compared to his two-eyed testimony. Just when we think his account holds no water, we see him mysteriously stalked down deserted streets by Myung-jin. Either he’s been chosen as a random victim, or he knows something that our psychopath doesn’t want told.
Here’s the thing about our psychopath – he’s sloppy. The director tries to light him creepily (it’s akin to the effect you’d get if you put a flashlight under your chin), but he seems sort of new to the game. He manages to chase Ki-sub down and give him a brick to the head, though he’s prevented from bashing Ki-sub’s skull in a second time by the noise of a neighbor nearby. Once again, his crimes are subverted by a passerby, which makes me think he’s a killer that just gets really lucky when he manages to nab his victims.
It’s a bit of a logic fail that Myung-jin lacks the time to hit Ki-sub a second time, yet has the time to hide him in a pile of garbage. Either way, Ki-sub is found and taken to the hospital, which Soo-ah becomes aware of due to the fact that she couldn’t get him off of her mind and kept trying to reach him before the assault.
We pretty much knew from the first moment Ki-sub appeared that he’d be a new little brother to Soo-ah and a form of redemption for the guilt she carries. The movie makes sure that we know it by inserting scenes here and there that literally spell out the connection, changing Ki-sub’s face into her brother’s face and back again. It’s unnecessarily heavy-handed in its attempts to drive the message home, simply because we get it. The same heavy-handedness comes to play again in the climax of the film and while not solely responsible for the anticlimactic nature of the climax, these kind of scenes do tend to treat the audience as though we’re incapable of gleaning Soo-ah’s motivation in caring for the errant Ki-sub.
Luck strikes again for our killer, who managed to find one of Soo-ah’s notebooks she dropped in the car with her name and number. He calls her to torment her, and she remains calm as she urges him to turn himself in. His flippant demeanor over the phone allows her to guess that he’s killed before, and when he tells her that he can see her (he can’t, but he knows she can’t tell either way), she finally becomes frightened and makes a beeline back to the hospital for Ki-sub.
He treats her coldly as usual, unwilling to give her the time of day or care that she’s scared out of her wits. She’s less concerned about herself and more concerned that the killer will come to get Ki-sub again – and for good reason, because Myung-jin is waiting for her in the hospital. Ki-sub won’t have it and remains a brat.
However, things change when both she and Ki-sub end up on two different sides of the subway. Once he sees Soo-ah being followed by the killer, he frantically calls her, telling her to plug her earphones in and turn the call to video so he can see through her phone’s camera.
It results in the most tense and compelling scene of the film, marking a complete 180 in Ki-sub’s demeanor when he realizes his new noona is actually in danger. It’s almost a shame for the rest of the film that this scene is so good, because the extended finale showdown doesn’t manage to top it.
Myung-jin need only put on his Psychopath Hoodie to begin the chase scene, where Soo-ah must rely on Ki-sub’s voice to guide her on how to escape in an eerily empty subway station. Using her phone camera Ki-sub instructs her on whether to go left or right, when she can run freely or when she can’t, as she’s relentlessly pursued by our scalpel-wielding mad doctor.
He even gets a “Here’s Johnny!” moment as she tries to escape via elevator, and manages to inject her with a sedative before her seeing eye dog intervenes and attacks him. Ki-sub is startled when the camera reveals a scalpel and blood spatter, only it isn’t Soo-ah’s, it’s her dog’s.
Soo-ah is able to escape, but her loyal dog isn’t as lucky. Their shared experience marks a turn in her and Ki-sub’s relationship, as he suddenly goes from bratty and childish to responsible and caring little brother. It’d be nice if they could have fleshed out their relationship a little more since the basics were there, but with his turn coming past the halfway mark there just wasn’t enough time.
We only get the tail end of how the police are involving themselves, now guided by Ki-sub’s ability to point out the make and model of Myung-jin’s expensive foreign car. Speaking of expensive, we get brief flashes into Myung-jin’s life as a doctor in a typically nice-looking doctor’s office, then we cut to him performing what looks like a really shady abortion in a big empty black space, aka the creepiest operating room ever (seeing as it isn’t even a room). So many shots are creepy for the sake of creepy, and that was just one of those shots that fell under the Tries Too Hard tab.
With the police on the case, Detective Jo sends Soo-ah and Ki-sub off for a little R&R until they catch the killer, along with a cop for added protection. He goes searching for every foreign car that fits Ki-sub’s description, which lands him in a secluded basement filled only with flickering lights. We all know what that means.
He’s sent Ki-sub with Soo-ah as more of a guardian, so it’s cute that Ki-sub only has eyes for his noona from here on out. They end up at Soo-ah’s orphanage where he gets to meet Mom and see the device Mom has been trying and failing to give Soo-ah throughout the film – one that vibrates when objects are near, and one that proves useful to her later on.
Of course, Mom is taking the kids out for the night, leaving Soo-ah and Ki-sub alone at the orphanage. They get a little time to bond before Myung-jin reaches the scene, having tracked down Soo-ah’s whereabouts via cursory internet searches.
The detective guarding them becomes useless, so it’s up to Ki-sub and Soo-ah to fight off a crazed killer who’s apparently superhuman zombie with nine lives with the pleasure of hunting his prey in a predictably empty and creepy orphanage during a dark and stormy night. Sound familiar? It is, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, only none of the familiar territory is really presented in a new and interesting way.
The idea of an inhumanly strong killer in thriller movies isn’t new (which is why I’m a firm believer that the “Double Tap” rule from Zombieland be applied when one is hunted down by a psychopath), but this killer is so lucky that even after being beaten, burned, and then smashed in the head, he still has the wherewithal and energy to kick down locked doors to try and rape our heroine.
He just wasn’t a good villain throughout the film, and seemed far too brazen to have flown under the radar for as long as he did. However, he’s completely dehumanized in the final act and does the movie a grand disservice. We may have gotten some interesting scenarios to test Soo-ah’s mettle from him, but the finale loses some of its bite when our heroine is essentially fighting a caricature.
There weren’t huge structural errors as far as the plot went, however contrived most of the circumstances tended to be. We also had some missed opportunities that became evident once Soo-ah began to use her considerable wits to plunge the orphanage into darkness, and the screen would go dark depending on whether a match was lit or not. Instead of that, we saw hints of what could have been used to great effect had the director tried to give us pieces of the scene through Soo-ah’s lack of sight, so that like her, we would only be able to hear the killer’s whereabouts. It would have worked well to put the audience firmly in her shoes.
Kim Haneul really did a bang-up job in portraying a blind character, and managed to be both vulnerable and cunning all at once. Her showdown with the killer might have packed more punch had he been fleshed out even a little, or played in a more capable actor’s hands. If he had a less important role it wouldn’t matter so much, but as the catalyst for most of the events in the film he was, quite frankly, a failure.
I don’t know whether I can call the constant reminder that Ki-sub is a stand-in for her dead brother symbolism when it fails to be symbolism and is just a glass case of emotion for our heroine. The opening scene was great in establishing the emotional turmoil that would inevitably haunt her later on, but when we literally get taken out of the final fight and to a soundstage (or rather, a vision) where Soo-ah is imagining that she’s saving her brother when she’s really saving Ki-sub, it all feels a bit much. It’d be preferable had her mentality stayed in the present, so that we were firmly shown that she cared for Ki-sub for himself, and not just because he reminds her of her missed chance to save her brother.
Even so, Ki-sub’s attempts to save noona from a crazy psychopath were endearing, though they lacked an emotional punch due to the underdevelopment of their relationship. Her heroism compounded with his heroism made for some heartwarming and thrilling moments even when logic took a complete backseat to the rest of the proceedings, and the two of them combined were certainly the main attraction here.
The bottom line: A well-acted mediocre stab at the thriller genre with potentially winning characters unfortunately painted in strokes that were far too broad for the emotional undercurrent the story tried to present. Kim Haneul puts in a stellar performance, though it’s not enough to save the film from a lack of coherent style and logic. Inoffensive, yet ultimately forgettable. 5/10.
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