October 5, 2014

Fatal: Cheap Isn't a Bad Thing

Rape. Crime. Poverty. Murder. All these things tend to get glamorized in the movies, whether that's the director's intent or not. With flawless faced actors shot in supersaturated colors and from provocative angles, the abhorrent becomes art and subversively appetizing so even when a brutal scene manifests some of the terribleness of it all, with that high gloss, with that visual splendor, it also all looks pretty damned pretty. Which is one of the reasons, Lee Don-ku's harrowing rape-revenge pic Fatal is so affecting. It looks horrible. The ramshackle apartment settings, the discount clothing, even the cast itself never truly look good because Kang Moon-bong's cinematography won't let any of it do so. Appearing to be entirely shot on low-quality film stock about to expire and therefore robbed of any color or contour, Fatal feels sordid in part because the reality unfolding before you never appears lovely, painterly or eye-catching. You're never seduced by the images. Ever. Nothing looks good because nothing is good.

But intentionally crappy cinematography isn't going to make a movie even if the anemic images suit the material. Lucky for us, Lee's storytelling delivers the goods. For with Fatal, Lee has concocted a new kind of Asperger's Syndrome antihero: the boyish, eternally awkward outsider Sung-gong (Nam Yeon-woo) who may be coming to the rescue of rape survivor Jang-mi (Yang Jo-a) and sacrificing his job (admittedly dead-end) and his friends (admittedly dead beat) but who is no knight in shining armor. He's damaged goods, a victim of systematic bullying who's obsession with Jang-mi is "creepy stalker" as much if not more than it's love. Despite all his well-meaning gestures and efforts, the most caring and thoughtful action available to him might have been to just get the hell out of the young woman's life and make attrition and restitution unbeknownst to her somewhere far away. Like the Vatican City. Did he really have to attend the same Evangelical church as Jang-mi to find salvation? What's the opposite of Amen?

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