October 11, 2014

The Executioner: Die, Die, Die

12 years have passed since the last execution but the South Korean government has now decided to get some guys off death row in the most permanent way possible as a public relations tactic to show that the administration is indeed being tough on crime. Among those slated for the gallows? Three guys from a single prison: Seong-hwan (Kim Geon), a born-again old geezer who stabbed his wife and son to death decades ago; Yong-doo (Jo Seong-ha), a cheery serial killer who mutilated his female victims and still thinks killing is a giggle; and, from out of nowhere, an unnamed guy with no back story who naturally is the first to feel the noose around his neck when the hangings begin.

The Executioner isn't about the doomed criminals however. It's about the damaging psychological effects these sanctioned killings have on the prison guards, again three in particular: Jong-ho (Jo Jae-hyeon), a hardened 40-year-old who's job has become his unhappy life; Jae-kyeong (Yoon Kae-sang), the newbie who's about to get a lesson in institutionalized sadism; and Officer Kim (Park Im-hwan), a lifer who's best friend is the aforementioned senior slayer slated for his last meal. You can practically hear the executioners saying to themselves, like some self-deluded parent, "This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you." Seems a stretch.

Director Choi Jin-ho and screenwriter Kim Young-ok are unabashedly against the death penalty. It dehumanizes! It's imperfect! It's no better than the people who did the original crimes! But The Executioner isn't a particularly persuasive argument for life or longevity. You get the feeling that if the HR department here hired a tough but sensitive psychologist [maybe someone like Jae-kyeong's pregnant girlfriend Eun-joo (Cha Su-yeon)], these troubled guys would be able to deal with the mental repercussions that come with a having to knock people off for a living.

And I'm writing this as someone AGAINST the death penalty! Go figure.

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