May 21, 2014

Enemy at the Dead End: Murderous Thoughts Not for the Multiplex

I do think there's a good play somewhere in Enemy at the Dead End. Most of the action takes place in one setting -- a hospital room -- and it would be easy to trim the cast down to three main characters: Min-ho (Chun Ho-jin), the physically debilitated patient suffering from PTSD; Sang-up (Yoo Hae-jin), the amnesiac thug who may have killed Min-ho's wife and who occupies the neighboring bed; and Nurse Ha (Seo Hyo-rim), the ditzy orphan-nurse who is unaware that a blood feud is slowly emerging between the two men whom she is treating. If you needed to, you could always throw in a fourth actor to play a series of bit parts: Doctor, Ex-wife, Second Nurse, Hallucination... But you could probably make do with a voice offstage. Afterward, stripped down to its basic elements, Enemy at the Dead End would emerge as an effective, economical psychological thriller. Fueled by an experimental drug, the narrative would erupt with over-the-top performances that keep getting crazier and crazier without intermission.

But Enemy at the Dead End isn't a play. It's a movie. And because it's a movie, the action sometimes leaves the hospital room thereby diminishing the claustrophobia of a single setting and the bravura potential of the performances. I don't know that confining the action within four walls would have solved all this movie's problems but I'm guessing it would've helped some. Then again, it might've introduced others. Only one of the two male actors could probably sustain an unedited performance. The flashbacks would have to be replaced by exposition that could prove cumbersome. You'd probably have to rewrite the crazy doctor back story that got these two in the same hospital room to begin with. But given that Cho Owen and Kim Sang-hwa share both writing and directing credits, you'd have two people to work on rewrites and two people to work on figuring out how to make it work for a live audience when it didn't work on film.

And if Cho and Kim insist that Enemy at the Dead End should transfer to video once they've perfected the theatrical version, let it be for the small screen instead.

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