Say Yes (South Korea, 2001)

Kim Sung-Hong has recently directed such middling shock-horror fare as the serial killer thriller Missing (2009), and the surgery-centered horror Doctor (2012). However, in 2001, he brought the intriguing Say Yes to Korean screens. While some critics have dismissed it as being derivative of thrillers such as Duel (1971) and The Hitcher (1986), there is a lot of originality within the film’s story. It is packed full of unexpected twists and turns, though there is one certainty – the young couple at the center of the  narrative are never the same again, especially because of the sadistic Em (Park Joong-hoon).

Jeong-hyun (Kim Ju-hyuk) and Yun-hie (Choo Sang-mi) are pressured into giving Em a lift as they try to escape the city for a holiday in the countryside. However, he soon comes across as not-quite-normal through their attempts at conversations in the car, and he leaves a sour taste in both their mouths. Em is then determined not to leave them alone, even after they have fulfilled their agreement to help him along with his own journey. At first, rocks are thrown through their windows, and another mysterious car chases them. Then Em shows up in person at later stops they make, leading to Jeong-hyun violently lash out at him. The police take Em’s side because of the circumstances and Em’s injuries, which leaves him free to torment them further.

The build-up of Em’s terrorism leads to a scene that was widely used in the film’s promotion – where the antagonist is torturing Jeong-hyun into saying yes to Yun-hie’s death. Nonetheless, this scene only serves as the start of the film’s climactic scenes, and introduces some high-octane action into the mixture of tense atmosphere and creepy stares from Park’s enigmatic villain. The combination of so many different switches in gear in the story – from romantic drama, to psychological thriller, as well as sudden chases and bloody horror – can give the impression of the film being uneven. And yet this is what makes the film so original, as focusing on any of these traits over the others would make it more derivative than critics have already claimed.

Say Yes also includes several interludes with scenes just involving the central couple. While they contrast to events that include Em, they are a welcome attempt by the director to add their insights into the overall story. The relationship between Jeong-hyun and Yun-hie is at risk of breaking down, as well as their minds, because of Em’s relentless terrorism. Such scenes could be interpreted as adding up to a crudely emphasized message (such as, beware of strangers, especially when traveling). However, the progression of the couple’s scenes adds additional characterization to the story, which helps the later twists, and makes them more than just clichéd victims.

Another point of contention for many viewers is that Em’s actions are never explained. This is one of the most basic rules in the horror – never give too much backstory – and it helps make Em all the more terrifying. That being said, Say Yes never strays fully into the horror category, despite the bloodletting in the final reel. This only serves as another twist in the suspenseful story, and an unexpected one, which makes the film all the more admirable. Chief among the film’s qualities, though, is Park’s portrayal of Em. Park has become a regular in big-budget Korean productions, mostly as the heroic protagonist, but he is equally at home playing the villain. Hopefully this is an aspect of his talent that will not be completely ignored in the future.