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Bluebeard (Haebing)

Director – Lee Soo-youn – 2017 – South Korea – 115m

****

A Korean Twin Peaks clone. A doctor becomes increasingly suspicious of his downstairs butchers’ shop neighbours: are they chopping people up and dumping their remains in the Han River?London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) 2017 teaser screening

Dr. Byun Seung-hoon (Cho Jin-woong) is working at a colonoscopy clinic where the owner puts in the occasional appearance. The drugs they use have the unfortunate side effect of making their patients talk freely just like people do in their sleep. One day he’s treating the demented father (Goo Shin) of his landlord Sung-geun ( Kim Dae-myung) who runs a butcher shop on the ground floor below his cramped apartment when the old man starts talking about where to put body parts such as the legs and the torso. When the TV news reports on a woman’s body found in pieces in the Han River, Byun puts two and two together.

When Dr. Byun is accosted by Sung-geun the same evening, the two go to the former’s flat and consume drink and food. Medical textbooks are stacked in piles. That’s all he reads. Oh, and mystery novels. He likes the latter because, he says, they provide him with answers… Another evening, his ex-wife comes over and tries to mend their relationship but it doesn’t work and she storms out after a furious row. Then she disappears and the police are called in…

Set in a suburb where serial killers are rampant, this probes its characters much as Byun’s surgical instrument probes its patients. The whole thing owes much to Twin Peaks (David Lynch, Mark Frost, 1990-91) not just the set up with the woman’s corpse but also a series of strange, quirky characters all of whom appear to be hiding something – the various members of the butcher’s dysfunctional family, Byun’s assistant Mi-yun (Lee Chung-ah) whose expensive handbags exceed her means and a police inspector who may not be a policeman at all.

Then there’s that bag the doctor keeps seeing in the butcher’s which he and we are convinced contains a human head. But what is it doing in his fridge?

For the most part, this plays out as a very clever character study of the doctor although a plot twist about the one and a half hour mark sends it scurrying around the other characters exploring half truths. It’s a society of CCTV and dashcams (“we didn’t have those in my day,” bemoans the old man) where all misdemeanours can be seen and all lives lived appear to embody lies once their more respectable facades are removed revealing a world of racists, embezzlers, loan sharks and murderers where no one is safe: a bleak vision indeed.

This was a little teaser screening for the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) 2017 promising a noir strand: if the other Korean noirs are as impressive as this one, we’re in for a treat.

Trailer:

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