Say Yes



South Korea 2001 : Sung-Hong Kim : 104 mins

ONE-LINE REVIEW : Effectively claustrophobic Korean twist on Hollywood crazed-psycho thrillers, undone by preposterously excessive and unlikely hyper-violent last reel.

The Vanishing, The Hitcher, Breakdown, Kalifornia,Cape Fear, Joy Ride and Se7en all come to mind at various stages during tense thriller Say Yes, in which a psychotic loner ‘M’ (Frederic Forrest lookalike Jong-Hoon Park) terrorises yuppie couple Jeong-Hyun (Juk-Hyuk Kim) and Jun-Hie (Sang-Mi Chu) as they drive from Seoul to an intended holiday on the coast.

The western cinematic echoes are far from accidental – nor is it irrelevant that the film actually is called ‘Say Yes’, rather than any Korean translation. Because beneath the surface psycho-thriller convolutions of Hye-Young Yeo’s screenplay lies a yuppie-nightmare subtext in which the couple, living comfortable, cultured, very westernised lives full of (relatively) expensive clothes, gadgets and a fancy car, are punished by fate, just as their financial dreams are on the point of coming true – writer Jeong-Hyun has just had his first novel published.

M, in contrast to the young marrieds, is a brutish, down-at-heel, blue-collar loner, a non-entity pedestrian in a shell-suit, trainers and scruffy mac. His concentrates his attacks on the ‘trophies’ of Jeong-Hyun’s bourgeois existence – car, girlfriend – and also the tools of the writer’s trade – his hands, which M viciously attacks in the frenzied latter scenes. To some extent, the film is clearly Jeong-Hyun’s anxiety dream, the visualisation of his suspicion that, after years of struggle, success can only be a fleeting prelude to horror.

In these socio-economic and psychological terms, Say Yes is an intriguing, rewarding film. But as a drama, it’s less satisfying, despite the fact that there’s hardly a dull moment in the whole movie. Though the tension escalates gradually in the first hour, Yeo doesn’t seem to know what to do for a finale, and retreats into an excessive, gratuitous, heavy-going orgy of violence that might give even Takashi Miike cause for concern. Even worse than these grand-guignol pyrotechnics is Yeo and Kim’s decision to end their movie with a nonsensical coda that’s presumably intended as a bleak, haunting note of ongoing horror – but which feels much more like a cheap, arbitrary gimmick of circularity.

The film is also afflicted by a fundamental uncertainty of tone. Much of the dialogue is so deadpan alongside the extremity of the action that it takes on a comic edge. We presume some degree of ironic, perhaps even satirical intent when Jeong-Hyun is calmly told “You’ve been through a lot” after we’ve just seen the bloke virtually swimming in gore. But Song-Woo Jo’s straightforward action-pic soundtrack suggests we’re supposed to take everything straight, at face value – a very difficult task given the increasingly extravagant absurdities of M’s insomnia-motivated campaign of “revenge.”

26th June 2002
(seen 15th April, Melkweg, Amsterdam : 18th Fantastic Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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