Director: Kwak Kyung-Taek
Writer: Park Ha-Ik, Kwak Kyung-Taek
Cast: Kim Rae-Won, Kim Hae-Sook, Sung Dong-Il, Jeon Hye-Jin, Jang Young-Nam, Baek Bong-Ki, Oh Dae-Hwan, Kim Min-Jun, Lee Joon-Hyuk, Lee Ji-Won
Running Time: 91 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s rare that a movie throws me off-guard before the opening credits have even started, but RV: Resurrected Victims did exactly that. The source of my raised eyebrows came in the form of the production company backing it. Having seen hundreds of Korean movies, there’s a kind of unconscious familiarity with the various logos that pop up onscreen before the opening credits, so when the logo for Story is God graced the screen, something about it stuck out. A few taps later confirmed my instincts – RV: Resurrected Victims was made by a Christian production outfit.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, if we live in a world were Nicolas Cage can star in a Vic Armstrong directed Christian flick (Left Behind), then I guess Kim Rae-won can star in director Kwak Gyeong-taek’s latest as well. My apprehension really came from the perspective of, there’s usually a significant difference between a movie which features Christianity as a theme (Jang Jae-hyon’s The Priests), to a movie which is made by Christians (Yoo Young-jin’s Boss). With that being said though, I’m a guy with an open mind, so I cast my apprehension aside and looked forward to checking out Gyeong-taek’s latest.
As a director Gyeong-taek’s filmography makes for interesting viewing. When your debut becomes one of the classics of the Korean new-wave, with his 2001 semi-autobiographical tale Friend, it understandably makes for a hard act to follow. Indeed in the preceding years his output has failed to recapture the magic that seemed so effortless in Friend, with action misfires like Typhoon, unremarkable thrillers like An Eye for an Eye, and pedestrian procedurals like The Classified File. His frequent attempts to fall back on the success of Friend, first with the TV spin-off series Friend, Our Story in 2009, and then with a direct sequel in 2013 with Friend 2, were also largely considered to miss the mark.
Despite his patchy track record, he remains a busy director, and for RV: Resurrected Victims has Kim Rae-won to headline proceedings, last seen on the big screen in The Prison. Rae-won plays a prosecutor whose mother (played by Park Chan-wook regular Kim Hae-sook) was murdered 7 years ago. Even though the murderer was convicted, Rae-won has always felt it was the wrong guy, and his suspicions are confirmed when, well, when his mother turns up in his living room watching TV. As you’ve likely guessed, she returns as a Resurrected Victim, a global phenomena that doesn’t seem to be generating as much surprise as it should. It’s explained that these RV’s (as they’re referred to) are always murder victims in which the murderer, for whatever reason, managed to escape punishment. So they return, kill (re: murder) the murderer, and then go up in smoke like a vampire.
It’s fair to say that RV: Resurrected Victims comes with an alarming amount of plot holes, and the RV’s themselves are never competently explained. When the intelligence agency is giving a debrief of the phenomena, they show a video of 5 female victims that returned in Macau, all murdered by the same serial killer. The footage shows them tearing apart the killer by apparently eating him alive like an outtake from Dawn of the Dead, however no other RV ever acts like this. In another clip, a young American girl amusingly announces “I came back to make justice. There’ll be more people like me, coming back for the same reason.” However much like the time travel plot device in The Phone, here the concept of murder victims returning to life is basically just a novelty, one used to frame a fairly standard tale of an unpunished death.
To go into every major plot hole would unfortunately involve also giving away several spoilers, not to mention take up the remainder of the review, however the crux of the plot comes down to when Hae-sook sees Rae-won for the first time after her return, she apparently tries to kill him. With the RV behaviour established that they only return to exact divine retribution (re: brutally murder) the one responsible for their own death, suspicions are raised as to why she targets her own son. When it’s revealed he’s the sole inheritor of her life insurance policy, soon an investigator played by Jeon Hye-jin gets on his case, to find out exactly what happened 7 years ago.
For a Korean movie, RV: Resurrected Victims comes with a remarkably short runtime of 85 minutes. However despite this, it feels considerably longer, as Gyeong-taek’s direction is so terminally dull and lifeless that minutes feel like they’re stretched into hours. It was only 30 minutes in when I began to impatiently look at my watch, and the realization that there was still almost an hour to go didn’t exactly fill me with happiness. Not helping matters is that almost everyone involved looks chronically bored. Hae-sook in particular looks embarrassed to be there, and rightly so, while Rae-won looks like he’s slumming it, likely wondering how he could go from starring in a production like Gangnam Blues to something like this.
Then of course, let’s get it out of the way, there’s the Christian element. From the moment Hae-sook’s church group visit her once she returns, excitedly asking if she met Jesus or what heaven was like, you know subtlety is not going to be an option. As the plot progresses crucifixes start frequently appearing in shots, with just enough regularity to make even the most tolerable viewer audibly groan “We get it.” It should be no spoiler to say that, considering how much time the script spends hitting us over the head with the fact RV’s come back to exact their vengeance, the closing scenes of RV: Resurrected Victims present us with an entirely predictable message about forgiveness.
The story itself is based on a novel by Park Ha-ik called It is Over. While I’m not familiar with the source material, one would hope it more clearly defines the logic and narrative around the RV’s better than Geyong-taek adapts for the screen. Perhaps it was due to budgetary constraints that so many important details are glazed over (ultimately the question of why Hae-sook has returned in the first place is never clearly addressed), however RV: Resurrected Victims builds up so many unresolved plot threads it ends up hanging itself with them. This is Gyeong-taek’s first (and hopefully last) foray into the supernatural genre, and it at times feels like we’re watching an extended version of The X-Files, complete with special effects that hark back to late 90’s fare like Blade and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
By the time RV: Resurrected Victims decides to puts its cards on the table, viewers will likely be so numb it’ll be easy to miss that Gyeong-taek has lifted wholesale from Bong Joon-ho’s vastly superior Mother, delivering a twist telegraphed far too early to remain interesting. This is perhaps the biggest issue with Gyeong-taek’s latest, in that it seems to have a belief that it’s interesting, but once you figure out the angle the story is coming from, its direction (including the turns along the way) becomes painfully obvious.
There’s an inescapable feeling throughout RV: Resurrected Victims that everyone involved should be in a far better movie than what it actually is. Constantly dull, endlessly predictable, and frequently nonsensical, the finished product is a mercifully short but uninspired and monotonous mess. In the closing line, we’re told how important it is to realize our own sins and ask to pay the price for them. For Gyeong-taek, hopefully that realization starts with just how much of a misguided effort RV: Resurrected Victims is, and hope he doesn’t repeat it.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 2/10