Blind (South Korea, 2011)
First impressions are important and as film viewers we are particularly prone to making rash decisions based upon the opening moments of anything we watch. This is perhaps even more important in this day and age as multimedia is so readily accessible. Our already short attention spans are dwindling ever further as we can easily switch between TV channels, on demand, stored digital, and portable media. Those first few minutes of a film can dispense a large volume of information but even so, they cannot always prepare you for what you are going to see. Opening scenes are important, but not every kind of film can benefit from a flashy beginning.
One of this year’s most successful Korean films, Blind does not get off to the greatest start and blunders on through the first act with heavy feet, trampling through the early stages of the plot. Subtlety is not the film’s strong suit and the more quickly this is accepted, the better. Once I got used to the heavy-handedness of the proceedings, I was able to enjoy myself but the film walks a dangerous line from the start. The film doesn’t really announce itself properly and seems like a relatively sober affair at first; it is only as the narrative continues in unsubtle fashion and when things become even more ridiculous that you begin to understand the intent of the film, which is to be a trashy and entertaining potboiler. It does succeed on that last count, but it takes a while to get there and not without its fair share of problems while en route.
Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul) is a young trainee at the police academy and she barges in on an informal dance show and corners her brother, whom she chastises and more or less drags out by the ear. He is cuffed to the door of the passenger seat of a police van as they bicker, presumably on the way to bring him home. To cut a long story short, they crash, he dies because he is handcuffed, and she loses her sight. Flash forward a few years later and she is still adjusting to the life of the visually-impaired and carrying a lot of guilt over her brother’s death. One night she gets in a taxi, or at least she thinks she does, and the driver hits someone and assuming she can’t tell the difference, tries to cover it up then swiftly disappears. Equipped with her heightened hearing as well as her intuition and cleverness, she tries to help scruffy local police detective Jo (Jo Hee-bong) track him down. A youth called Gi-seob (Yoo Seung-ho) comes forward with some information, but is dismissed as an opportunist out for some reward money. They soon realize he was telling the truth and he becomes a part of the investigation. Little do they know that are in fact tracking a serial killer.
Although it starts with a big dollop of melodrama, Blind mainly indulges itself from that point in dribs and drabs. In fact, most of the melodrama that appears in the film relates to that opening scene. Gi-seob serves as a stand-in for Min’s deceased brother and his relationship with her mainly serves as an instrument for her to forgive herself for her sibling’s untimely passing. There are a lot of none-too-subtle parallelisms linking Gi-seob and her brother and, as a result, things play out exactly as you would expect them to. More glaring is the manipulative sentimentality on display courtesy of Min’s guide dog Wisdom who provides a connection to the world for her. Besides being cute and protective, he will serve one unavoidable purpose which, for me, amounts to no more than a cheap trick.
Blind features a number of remarkable similarities to the much superior The Chaser (2008): the principal protagonists both used to be in law enforcement; nighttime chase sequences through decrepit but stylistically lit alleys abound; the villain in both is an amoral serial killer of young women; and the leads don’t realize that they are chasing a serial killer until about the halfway mark. The tone is admittedly quite different, but there is a surprising amount of common ground all the same and it hardly seems coincidental. Of course, it is only natural to ‘borrow’ from something that is proven to work (The Chaser sold over 5 million tickets in its native Korea).
While I certainly enjoyed Blind, the fact that it won both Best Actress for Kim Ha-neul and Best Script for Choi Min-suk at the recent ‘Daejong Film Awards’ is ludicrous. Kim’s performance, while adequate, certainly did not feature the kind of measured, nuanced acting that typically receives such accolades. In fact, her performance as a blind woman was about as subtle as a brick through a window. Similarly, Choi’s script managed to holds its elements in place ,but it lacks any real intrigue or originality, besides the gimmickry, which I admit that I enjoyed. Once again, his slightness of touch reminded me of a gorilla in a china shop. I don’t mind campy films, though I find it odd to see them recompensed at industry awards. What I do need is for the filmmakers to tell me that I am watching one, not to have me suss it out at the tail end of the second act.
Besides a strong supporting turn from Jo Hee-bong, a fantastic subway chase sequence that could double as a 10-minute ad for the iPhone, and a few clever investigatory tricks, Blind often fails to impress. However, its gusto is admirable and if you catch it in the right frame of mind, you may end up really enjoying yourself.
Pierce Conran writes for Modern Korean Cinema, Twitch and currently lives in South Korea.