Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: The Slick But Baffling Thriller GENOME HAZARD

Part of MKC's coverage of the 18th Busan International Film Festival.

By John A. Riley

Illustrator Taketo (Nishijima Hidetoshi) returns home one evening to find his wife’s dead body. The telephone rings, breaking a tense silence, and Taketo is baffled to hear his wife’s voice on the other end of the line. Before he can even properly process this tragedy, men arrive intent on killing him, and he is drawn rapidly into a conspiratorial web where the only person who he can trust is Korean reporter Ji-won (a wide-eyed, incredulous Kim Hyo-jin) who, sensing a story, is dragged into the labyrinthine plot herself.

Genome Hazard, from director Kim Sung-Su, is a co-production between South Korea and Japan. Although the reality-bending opening of the film suggests we are in David Lynch or Christopher Nolan territory, Kim’s treatment of the material (a novel by Japanese author Shiro Tsukasaki) is far broader. This would be fine, but he seems not to know what to do with his script; the important plot points are never presented in a way that gives them the gravitas they need to become fully intelligible, and flashbacks and ‘reconstructions’ of hypothetical situations only serve to confuse matters.

There’s a clock that periodically appears on screen, counting down the hours, minutes and seconds, suggesting one of those tense thrillers about an imminent terrorist attack, but the film’s twists and turns don’t pack enough punch to warrant this grandiose technique. When we aren’t baffled by the plot, we’re exasperated with lengthy sections in which Nishijima rants and raves about his situation, alienating us from his plight through overkill, rather than immersing us in it. By the time it becomes clear that what we are watching is closer to a medical thriller like Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects than Total Recall (1990) the film has lost its momentum.

The film is slickly edited and well shot, and Kim Hyo-jin’s proves herself to be a fine actress, especially as she had to rapidly learn Japanese specially for the part. Genome Hazard’s ambition is to be applauded, and it may find favour with fans of slick, fast-paced conspiracy films, but ultimately it misses the chance to engage with the deeper issues (the unreliability of our memories, science and big business gone awry) raised by its themes and doesn’t create enough suspense to be a successful thriller.

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