The Five (Review)
aka 더 파이브 aka Deo Paibeu aka The Fives aka Deo pa-i-beu
Based on The 5ive Hearts by Jeong Yeon-shik
Written and directed by Jeong Yeon-shik
The Five is a good example of Korean film’s ease of switching emotional tracks like Grand Central Feelings Station. It’s also a good crime film featuring normal people tracking a crazy killer, a good film to watch for fans of shows like Hannibal that regularly depict killers with complicated psychoses and the flawed and broken people who track them down.
The Five began life as a webtoon feature called The 5ive Hearts by Jeong Yeon-shik, who went on to write and direct this adaptation. It’s a tale of desperate people banding together to do a dark task that is much easier said than done.
A happy and idealic family is shattered by a brutal psychopathic killer. Film production team member (and fancy domino effects designer) Ko Eun-a (Kim Sun-a, She is on Duty) has a normal happy life in Korea, but we’d have no movie if bad things didn’t happen. Eun-a’s daughter recognizes the murderer from seeing him with his latest victim, a former classmate of hers, though she thinks he is the girl’s uncle and doesn’t know she’s been killed. Despite their ignorance, the family is now marked for death by killer Oh Jae-wook (On Joo-wan), who tracks them home and begins the slaughter.
By a sort of miracle, Ko Eun-a survives, though a desperate doctor, Cheol-min (Jung In-gi), is willing to declare her brain dead in order to use her organs on his sick daughter. She awakens just in time, but two years later she’s wheelchair bound, and most of her waking hours are spent trying to track down the person who destroyed her family by the only clue she has, her husband’s lighter that the killer stole. After buying boxes full of the specific lighter, there is finally a clue, and an IP address to track down
Ko Eun-a’s quest has consumed her life and amuses her caretaker, the most insanely cheerful woman Hye-jin, brilliantly played by Park Hyo-joo. Her super happy tone is a jarring contrast to Eun-a’s living misery. In the episodes where Eun-a attempts to take matters into her own hands, things don’t work out right. Eun-a holds a man at knifepoint who vaguely resembles the killer, and earns a visit to uninterested police. Her attempt to buy a gun results in the sellers robbing her. Eun-a realizes she needs help, and she offers the only thing she has left to offer: her own organs.
Recruiting through Dr. Cheol-min, who first wanted to harvest her organs years ago, Eun-a finds candidates that needs organ replacements for loved ones, and after quite a bit of convincing (desperate relatives are targets for scammers and are understandably wary) gets them to sign on:
Cheol-min will facilitate meeting the other members of the group and their receiving of the organs: Park Jeong-ha (Lee Chung-ah), a computer expert needed to track down the IP address of the killer to a street address. Nam-Cheol (Shin Jung-Keun), a trained policeman who needs corneas, needed to investigate to ensure this is the right guy. And Jang Dae-ho (Ma Dong-seok), a former security man needed to capture the killer for Eun-a.
Things seem to go easy enough (though each member of The Five have their own personal problems), but the guy captured turns out to be a valet driver who found the ligher in a car. It is enough of a clue to begin investigation into tracking down the actual killer, but that means a lot more work than the parties agreed to, and tensions and real problems arise.
Even that is a drop when they finally find the real killer, who is deadly precautions and resilient. One doesn’t survived as a major killer for so long without being able to cover your tracks and learning to watch your back. The killer Oh Jae-wook is soon aware that he’s being hunted, and the tables begin to turn on who is hunting who.
The cast is by far the reason to watch The Five, with everyone delivering strong performances. Kim Sun-a is so good, Eun-a’s resilience to continue to fight. She continues to do things in honor of her daughter, buying her a cake on her birthday (that she always refused to let her eat), and has occasional fantasies of her husband. Hye-jin and her make an interesting pair, the extreme polar opposites of moods, and it is just amazing to watch.
The killer Oh Jae-wook is fantastically psycho. He constantly changes his appearance, and has his place wired up with cameras and security precautions. He’s also obsessed with dolls, and remaking beauty into perfection. But like many killers in film, he has mementos of all his kills, doll recreations of his victims. Dolls have become a quick shorthand to show someone is not entirely there thanks to so much creepy doll media. Creepy dolls are even getting their own spinoff horror films, headlining their own horror franchises, and have a healthy history dating back to at least The Twilight Zone. Oh Jae-wook is more than the dolls, his obsession with beauty and making the women he kills reborn into perfection is what sets him apart. He doesn’t even seem to care if the captives are conscious or not when he starts carving into them. His obsessions become his own undoing.
Jang Dae-ho has an adversarial relationship with his sick wife. She’s frustrated that she’s helpless and bedridden, with no hope to get better without a donor, and takes it out on him. She’s complaining about him working, accusing him of having a mistress, and even of his taking care of her. But she loves him and he loves her, and they both know it. His character was my favorite, him constantly on the edge with dealing with the sick wife and the crazed killer, yet still rushing in to fight when needed.
Computer expert Park Jeong-ha’s mom’s illness has caused her to get indebted to the mob, and requests by Eun-a put her in a disgusting place to be for an employee to get the jobs done. She’s easily frustrated by how difficult things keep getting, but learns that it is still the best option. Cheol-min’s life has become his sick daughter, who feels guilty for holding him back in career and love life because he’s taking care of her. He’s been desperate for so long he allows himself to ally with Eun-a and continue to stay when things get flipped.
Opening shots of Eun-a filming complicated dominoes patterns at her work, a theme that’s repeated in a Rube Goldberge-esque way of delivering her daughter her present of a new cell phone. The dominoes are apt, because soon everything comes falling down in Eun-a’s life. Continually things fall apart once she’s on the trail of the killer, the tracking and kidnapping of a brilliant psychopath just has so many ways it could and does go wrong.
The bigger problem is the villain is continually popping up after he’s been knocked out or captured or beaten. He won’t stay down, and every time you see him get beat, you know he’s going to spring back seconds later and win. It starts to get a bit ridiculous, and no one seems to learn. Another repeated motif by him is blowing smoke at peoples’ faces when he’s trying to intimidate them. Oh Jae-wook does it so often, On Joo-wan should be screened for lung cancer!
The police are particularly unresponsive for what was a sensational crime (creating a press mob frenzy in the beginning of the film), you would think that someone would care that the high-profile casefiles are gathering dust. But with police action, there would be no story. No desperate measures to unite the characters, no sense of vengeance to give Eun-a the only motivation she has to go on living. The Fives is dark and in a broken world, but it is filled with people fighting to make the best of the pieces that remain. The sense of desperate hope as things go wronger and wronger is the strength of The Five, and the reason you should watch.
Rated 7/10 (symbolism, target, mob, suicide organblaster, doll freak, paranoid, trophy)
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