Monday, August 7, 2017

BiFan 2017 Review: ROOM NO. 7 Gets A 6 At Best


By Pierce Conran

Following his acclaimed indie 10 Minutes, director Lee Yong-seung once again examines the plight of the working man in Korea with his commercial debut Room No. 7, which serves as the opening film of this year's Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BiFan). Shin Ha-kyun and new star Doh Kyung-soo partner up for the pressure cooker comedy with a hint of genre flair.

Doo-sik is trying to sell his failing business, a DVD screening room shop, and hasn't paid his part-time worker Tae-jung in months. Tae-jung needs quick cash and accepts a dangerous package that hides in room no. 7. The only problem is that an accident forces Doo-sik to use the same room to hide something even worse. With only a few days until the store closes, they both have to get rid of their problems without letting the other know.

Director Lee shows us how Korea's complex real estate system and a litany of dishonest characters can land small-business owners in hot water. Owing to this quagmire, it's easy to imagine a character like Doo-sik growing increasingly desperate, but he's also part of the problem, as he spews endless lies and empty promises to his staff and grapples with anger issues.


Shorn of any melodrama, Room No.7 zips by at a good clip but its structure feels a little off balance as the main plot line doesn't come into focus until the halfway point, and even then struggles to build momentum towards a climax. Instead it relies on situational comedy as the main protagonists are perpetually thwarted with coincidental obstacles. Yet while Lee tries to ratchet up the absurdity and chaos, the gags rarely elicit more than a chuckle.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Save the Green Planet star Shin delivers a manic turn as the shop owner, punctuated with tense bursts of energy. The aggressiveness of the performance masks the shallow characterization but Shin, as always, is a welcome presence on screen. Doh can't quite match him beat for beat, but he throws himself into the part. While Tae-jung never fully takes on three dimensions, the role marks an improvement over last year's family comedy My Annoying Brother.

With better humor the thin story and characters might have worked better but as it stands Room No. 7 is a quick distraction that falls into the same category as watchable but forgettable Korean comedies such as Over My Dead Body and Miss Conspirator. Though a tad disappointing after the impressive 10 Minutes, director Lee remains a talent to keep on the radar. Lee's strongest asset as a filmmaker, his ability to cross tension with social circumstances, quietly runs through much of the story but perhaps a different tone would have brought that into sharper focus.

★★


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