Director – Kim Jung-hoon – 2013 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 102m
A university professor’s aide who in his spare time builds bombs and sends them to people free of charge connects with a spoiled student prepared to detonate them – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival 2023 which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 2nd to Thursday, November 16th
High school student Park Jung-gu (Byun Yo-han) makes bombs as a hobby. Ten years later, he’s on the internet, sending bombs out free of charge to any interested parties. However, people who receive his bombs do nothing with them.
By day, Park works forBaek (Kim Jong-goo from Exit, Lee Sang-geun, 2019; Poetry, Lee Chang-dong, 2010; Nowhere To Hide, Le Myung-se, 1999), a lecturer in business studies at the local university, and watches arrogant, rich kid Lee Hyo-min (Park Jong-min from LKFF 2023 Closing Night Film Dr. Cheon And The Lost Talisman, Kim Seong-sik, 2023; Decision To Leave, Park Chan-wook, 2022; Deliver Us From Evil, Hong Won-chan, 2020; Netflix series Hellbound, Yeon Sang-ho, 2021) argue coherently against Baek’s pro-consumerist lecture and get failed in the course for his trouble. Lee can give as good as he gets though, and promises to drop by one of the professor’s lectures should he become bored enough.
Jung-gu sees something in Lee which inspires him to send the latter one of his home made bombs. As well as being a rebel, Lee is highly impulsive character in marked contract to the detail-attentive and extremely careful Jung-gu. Almost on a whim, Lee explodes the bomb under a food truck then manages to secure himself financial compensation as an innocent bystander whose hearing has been affected. Jung-gu sends further bombs and Hyo-min detonates them.
This is in marked contrast to Jung-gu’s working life, where he does what he’s told, servile to the point of rewriting a report on lab experiments to make the results suggest what Baek wants them to suggest to a major client of 25 years standing Mr. Kim. Baek has a ritual he uses to humiliate his key staff members; while out at a restaurant, he will pour soup through a sock he has just taken off and have his staff member drink it. Jung-gu submits to this ritual.
The fraught relationship between the fastidious bomb maker and the freewheeling bomb detonator seems destined to blow up in both their faces.
The narrative effectively enables a three-hander character study, with bomber Jung-gu most definitely the central character. Just as he pays attention to detail in his bomb making and distribution, so he is careful to keep apart the two worlds of deeply servile work life and equally deeply anti-social hobby. However, neither his employer Baek (who knows of his high school bomber history and uses it to manipulate him) nor his detonator Hyo-min (who at one point carries out a threat to visit Jung-gu at work despite Jung-gu’s warning him against so doing) share that agenda.
Jung-gu may be focused on making bombs, but doesn’t seem to know why he might be doing it. Hyo-min Looks superficially like an anti-capitalist protestor, but you can’t help but feel that he’s rebelling against his rich parents – and, when it comes down to it, will fall back on the privilege of his family’s wealth to get himself out of any difficult situations in which he might find himself. Meanwhile, the much older, manipulative and ultimately cynical Baek is simply playing the system to advance himself and have as cushy a life as possible.
The only film I can think of in anywhere remotely like the same area is the recent eco-thriller How To Blow Up A Pipeline (Daniel Goldhaber, Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol, Daniel Garber, 2022), which may be more focussed in terms of its protagonists’ eponymous aims, but is similarly questioning of both the society that drives them to carry out their plan and each of the eco-terrorists background ad motivation which, for better or worse, has radicalised them.
Amazingly, this debut (and, to date, only) feature from director Kim Jung-hoon is a graduation film made while he was a student at KAFA (Korean Academy of Film Arts, the country’s top film school). Amazing because it feels like the highly accomplished work of not only a consummate professional but also a visionary artist with something very specific to say. A quite remarkable, challenging and provocative thriller which at times ventures into taboo.
Tinker Ticker plays in LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival 2023 which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 2nd to Thursday, November 16th.