April 23, 2017

The Exclusive: Beat the Devil's Tattoo: So Silly, So Serious

A tragicomedy veers from the heavy to the hilarious and sometimes manages to be both at once. A dramedy — a much lighter form — periodically upends the overriding seriousness with well-timed punchlines. A black comedy takes a completely irreverent approach to something not typically seen that way. But what of director Noh Deok's The Exclusive: Beat the Devil's Tattoo? How should this one be ultimately classified? Well, despite the nuanced vocabulary at my disposal, I admit I find myself at a loss for words. It is a light-hearted satire that periodically feels accidentally grim. What do you call that? Neologists, please step forward and speak!

The plot certainly lends itself to tragic and farcical interpretations: Recently single and unemployed, reporter Heo Moo-hyok (Jo Jung-suk) stumbles on a lead for a murder story that ends up putting him back on the map, professionally and to some degree romantically. The catch? The breaking news is actually misinformation. As is his follow-up. As is his forged cover-up. This is a slippery slope story set in the world of fast-paced journalism. (Side note: An alternate title of the film is Journalist.) Can Moo-hyok escape his mistaken if well-meaning deceptions? Not if his media empire's General Manager (Lee Mi-sook) has anything to say about it? Indeed, the killer himself buys into Moo-hyok's perjured fiction, literally drawn from the novel Liang Chen Murder Record. How that comes about is amusingly troubling. Um. Troublingly amusing?

To say that The Exclusive has a cynical view of the media, law enforcement, and the working class would be an understatement. Indeed, a subplot involving a scam artist who undermines the reputation of the gallery where the reporter's wife (Lee Ha-na) works makes clear Noh's got a cynical view of the art world as well. Is it all despairingly laughable? Wryly painful? I simply cannot report with accuracy what it all means. Not at all.

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