‘Bluebeard’ Toys With Psychology Of Fallen Man

Henry Choi, March 2, 2017, 10:45 a.m.

The frozen Han River melts to reveal the body of a woman. With the resurfacing of a murder long forgotten, “Bluebeard” sends the characters, audience and plot spiraling down a rabbit hole where nothing is what it seems. Lee So-yeon’s psychological thriller shadows the steps of Seung-hoon, a doctor played by Cho Jin-woong whose failed marriage and career have pushed him to his psychological and financial edge.

Once the proud owner of a hospital in the affluent Gangnam area, the doctor is forced to move to Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, after his failed hospital and subsequent divorce leave him virtually penniless.

He now spends his days performing endoscopies on the elderly, taking orders from a preachy boss, fending off the landlord’s flirty wife and moping about his cramped apartment.

Seung-hoon’s timid and twitchy demeanor, constant flashbacks, apparent daydreaming and binge drinking leave the audience wondering if the protagonist is, indeed, two cans short of a six pack.

“I wanted to tell a story which has both fear and anxiety,” said Lee. “The economic crisis (of Korea) sent the middle class tumbling down and made it impossible for them to move up the social ladder. I wanted to depict the anxiety of a ‘fallen’ middle-aged man in that class.”

The character’s world is turned upside-down when he performs an endoscopy on the father of his landlord, a butcher by trade. The anesthetized senile old man, played by Shin Goo, utters words that sound eerily like a confession of murder.

“If you’re worried about the fingerprints ... just cut off the tips and dump it elsewhere. ...How would they know?” he says in stupor.

Shaken, the already unstable Seung-hoon is led to believe the landlord Sung-geun and his father are the serial killers behind the recent murder spree as well as a killing from 15 years ago, and starts to see evidence of their crimes everywhere.

The movie’s choice of Hwaseong as the background is deliberate. It is where some of the best-known serial killings in Korea -- which remain unsolved -- occurred between 1986 and 1991.

The characters discuss the infamous case and litter clues that sometimes lead the audience to the truth, and other times away from it.

Cho, appreciated for his portrayal of straightforward, simple and lovable characters, goes out of his comfort zone to portray a doctor whose sanity hangs by a thread.

“I don’t usually monitor my work while shooting, instead leaving it to the director. After seeing the film, I was left thinking, ‘Was I this pathetic?’” Cho said. “Seung-hoon is very unstable, which is betrayed in his spooky traits. I thought a lot about how he would react in situations where he has clearly fallen from grace.”

Constantly pushing Seung-hoon to the limits is butcher Sung-geun, played by Kim Dae-myung. Throughout the film, Kim has the audience guessing at the main antagonist’s motives and what his next moves might be.

On the other side is Mi-yeon, a lovable nurse played by Lee Chung-ah, whose interaction with Seung-hoon propels both the plot forward and the main character further toward the edge.

As the third act kicks off and the film gallops toward its climax, it slowly but surely reminds the audience that they have been following the views of, and only of, Seung-hoon.

“From another perspective, the actions of the characters may look completely different (compared to looking at it from Seung-hoon’s view),” said Lee.

Ironically, the folktale behind the title “Bluebeard” is simultaneously an obvious hint and a red herring to the movie’s twist.

“Following a person’s stream of consciousness leads to distortion, concealment of one’s memory. A person’s thinking isn’t always logical and the nightmare sequences that illustrate his fear allow for a more logical and interesting narrative,” said Lee. 

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