Hey all, it’s Noël. I’m here once again with a film review. This time, I’ll be discussing the 2018 Korean crime thriller, The Witness. The only positive sentiment I can really share here is that, I’m so glad I suffered through this one so that you don’t have to. Truly, if I can save you the trouble of wasting two precious hours of your time, I consider my job well done. Without further delay, I present to you, my thoughts on this…piece of work.
[Be Forewarned: Spoilers Below].
The Witness is a 2018 South Korean crime thriller film directed by Jo Kyu Jang. It stars Lee Sung Min, Kim Sang Ho, Jin Kyung and Kwak Si Yang. It was released theatrically in South Korea on August 15, 2018 (Wikipedia).
One night at his apartment, Sang Hoon (Lee Sung Min) hears a woman’s scream. He looks outside his apartment and sees Tae Ho (Kwak Si Yang) hitting a woman with a hammer. Sang Hoon and Tae Ho then make direct eye contact. Sang Hoon does not call the police. The next day, that woman is found dead. Detective Jae Yeob (Kim Sang Ho) investigates the case. Sang Hoon is still terrified and does not tell Detective Jae Yeob about what he witnessed. Soon, another resident who witnessed the same murder is killed by Tae Ho. Sang Hoon tries to protect himself and his family from the murderer (AsianWiki).
It’s never a good sign when you find yourself generating a series of creative excuses in an effort to pause a film all before you’ve even hit the half-way mark. I was very productive during these breaks: I showered, I made myself a nice little cheese plate with fresh fruit, had a small chat with my mom, watched a brief ten minutes of the tv show she was viewing, and even managed to send out a few tweets. When I say I really had to force myself to trudge through this one, I truly mean it. I’ll be blunt. The Witness was bland and uninspired; A version among many versions of an already exhausted narrative. Sadly, this version failed to contain any embellishments that could spice it up or separate it from its numerous competitors. It’s not innovative, nor thought-provoking, and definitely a snooze fest for any thriller veteran. Moreover, I struggled to connect with our protagonist, if you could even call him that. Aside from being yawn-worthy, the film was riddled with inconsistencies and faulty logic.
The film immediately introduces us to our villain, an offensively sloppy killer. Sure, Kwak Si Yang worked overtime to come through with the fearsome gazes, but they couldn’t save his character from coming across as a total amateur. First, Tae Ho almost gets caught at the gas station because he fails to ensure that his victim is completely unconscious. Then he loses his victim due to his incapability to tie a basic knot, and has to chase her, causing him to murder her in a public area (hence why there was a witness). However, he doesn’t even manage to kill her correctly, and even leaves for two hours, a time during which she is able to place a 911 call. Finally, he returns in time to hang up the call and deliver the final blow, all while our protagonist watches. By starting the film off with a half-assed killer, the appeal and scare level decreases immensely. A killer who makes various mistakes right from the get go is far less menacing than a calculative mastermind that does the job almost perfectly.
These errors are melded together with other nonsensical ideas in order to birth a plot that makes absolutely no sense. The entire story hinges on Sang Hoon’s, unwillingness to come forward about what he saw. The reasoning behind his decision is that he feels his family’s lives will be at stake if he reveals the truth. This is supposedly because the murderer saw him, but it becomes clear that he is suffering from increasing paranoia. This would all be fine, except for the fact that the script and story all contradict this line of thinking. I’ll explain. The murderer goes on to attack and kill multiple people after his first victim (all in broad daylight). Thus, I was dumbfounded as to what made our central character believe that keeping his mouth shut would guarantee his safety. Absolutely nowhere was it implied that the murderer wouldn’t kill Sang Hoon and his family anyway (whether he tattled or not). If Tae Ho was willing to kill so many other people boldly during the day with little skill, why would he randomly decide to spare Sang Hoon alone? With the way his character was presented, all signs pointed to Tae Ho killing Sang Hoon regardless as to whether he spoke up or not. Therefore, it made much more sense for Sang Hoon to come forward for the safety of himself, his family, and other people, especially when the cops actually found the right suspect. It became glaringly obvious that, in this case, telling the police was actually the safest option, which completely undermines the entire purpose of the movie.
The absurdity doesn’t stop there my friends. There were several moments when Detective Jae Yeob has the right suspect, and Sang Hoon decides not to say anything despite the murderer being a few feet away, making him an easy capture and arrest. Also, when he finally decides to identify the killer at the police station, he stupidly leaves his family at home instead of bringing them with him to the police station to ensure their safety. As if the clumsy killer wasn’t enough, this movie also felt the need to make use of super incompetent policemen half-assing their duties for the sake of taking the easy way out and not having to actually work for their merit. God I hate this trope, why is it everywhere? The only decent detective is Jae Yeob, but sadly, they decided to give Tae Ho superhuman abilities, so a lot of his work is fruitless.
Yes, that’s right, somewhere down the line, Tae Ho starts exhibiting immortality, psychic abilities, and invisibility. In one scene, the entire police force was wounded by a bomb he constructs, and yet he, who was closest to it, remained unharmed, making a spry jump out of his window to escape. His sudden psychic abilities aid him in preparing said bomb for the police who arrived unannounced to his home. Interesting, since he would have no way of knowing that our lead had suddenly changed his mind and decided to tell the police what happened. Furthermore, they make it really obvious when Tae Ho is there stalking Sang Hoon, and yet the police fail to see him. He’s able to appear and disappear out of nowhere in a flash, which makes absolutely no sense. For example, somehow, while detectives and Sang Hoon are both present, Cola (who is with them) gets kidnapped and beaten to a pulp in a matter of minutes. He is found in a completely different location than where he and the detectives originally were. We’ll never know how Tae Ho was able to nab someone standing right next to the police and then murder him within five minutes without being seen by a single detective or viewer.
The final act is when things get genuinely bizarre. In the last twenty-ish minutes, Sang Hoon and Tae Ho duke it out in a forest. The police are absolutely nowhere to be found. It’s raining, they’re muddy, they’re biting each other, and then, out of nowhere, we’re hurled into the world of Noah’s Ark. This enormous rush of water suddenly spawns and washes them off. It has to be the most laughable and preposterous load of sh*t I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Supposedly because of the heavy rain, a damn breaks or something of the sort. At least…that’s what they want us to believe, since they insert a careful shot of a cellular tower starting to bend over during the storm.
There is one mediocre subplot that weaves in and out of the film. It’s a philosophical commentary on human nature that stops short of anything poignant. Basically, the townspeople are more concerned with the area’s reputation and value, rather than the fact that lives were lost. Thus, the apartment complex is against people cooperating with the police because of potential damage it will do to their neighborhood. The closing scene of the film tries to drive this point home, by having our protagonist cry out for help in the same spot where the original murder took place in order to see if things have changed since the incident. When no one even glances in his direction let alone comes to his rescue, he stands there looking forlorn. This was supposed to be profound, but it was hard to feel anything after sitting through such a disjointed narrative.
On a more positive note, I loved Kim Sang Ho as the earnest detective, determined to solve the case for the right reasons. Kwak Si Yang certainly made the most out of the scraps he was given. The only performance that somewhat underwhelmed me came from our leading man, Lee Sung Min. I can’t say the fault lies entirely with him, as much as it does with the poor hand that he was dealt. The character itself was lackluster, so I can’t say I would have enjoyed it any better had he been able to do something amazing with such a poor script and story. Moving on, the cinematography was pretty pleasing. Every scene boasted incredibly crisp and vivid colors. There was a clean feel to each scene, plenty of landscape and scenic shots, as well as praiseworthy direction. There were some magnificent shots and angles used to provide different perspectives and viewpoints, which added to the intensity of particular scenes. The music was pretty forgettable, which is pretty shameful when we’re dealing with the thriller genre. Music is crucial in developing the mood in these types of films, so the music failing to evoke any kind of emotion was pretty lame.
Honestly, had it not been for some stellar acting from a few standout cast members, and some solid cinematography, I would have given this film a lower rating. Aside from being astonishingly unoriginal, the attempt to explore a narrative that’s been done time and time again was hardly satisfactory. The Witness is a frustrating and pitiful watch that I wouldn’t recommend anyone waste their time on. There are plenty of other thrillers out there, including mediocre ones, that would be far more enjoyable than this experience.
Have you watched The Witness? What did you think of the film? If you haven’t already, you can check out the trailer here.
Written by: Noël / @LEEJUNKL