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Year: 2008
Director: Kim Hyeong-Ju (김형주)
Screenplay:  Kim Hyeong-Ju (김형주)
Cast: Jin Goo (진구), Park Bo-Young (박보영).
Trailer: The ESP Couple (no subtitles)

Su-min (Jin Goo) is a college student with the ability to read – even manipulate – other people’s minds. It is not a talent that he particularly enjoys as the opening scene with its slightly eerie tone reveals. A young boy is being tested for his ESP abilities by a group of doctors, his facial expressions soon becoming tortured as distorted, near-monochrome images flitter across the screen. A moment later we see Su-min in the university library, having awoken from this unpleasant dream that is an every day reality for him. There Su-min, who shuns people – perhaps to avoid the painful encounter with their thoughts as much as possible – , is approached by another student. She tries to strike up a conversation, but he is not interested. Su-min walks away, escaping to a museum where another girl, Hyun-jin (Park Bo-Young) appears. Again, he wants to take flight, but this girl persistently follows him.

The two of them end up in a park nearby where several detectives are trying to capture a kidnapper and somehow manage to get entangled in this situation. In part at Huyn-jin’s insistence, they attempt to solve the mystery with the help of Su-min’s paranormal powers.

The film develops both the romantic and often comic relationship between the two rather different main characters and the underlying mystery-suspense plot related to the kidnapping. These elements make a somewhat unusual, but not ineffective combination, resulting in a multiple-genre film (part rom-com, part mystery, part sci-fi).

Much of Chogam Kakkeopeul’s success derives from Kim’s clever use of mixed media. The cinematography is full of contrast between aesthetic scenes (in the art museum where the characters are shot against colourful walls of paintings) and dysmorphic, greyish-black images of people’s thoughts as perceived by Su-min. Towards the end Kim inserts a beautifully rendered animated sequence of a dream, which works surprisingly well. The choice of camera angles also reveals the technical background of the film-editor-turned-director, with a shot focusing on drops of blood on the ground creating ambiguity about who has been gunned down and whether the injury was fatal, contributing to the overall supernatural suspense feel.

The film’s faults lie elsewhere. The script is not nearly as tight as it could have been and pacing can be slow. The scene in which Hyun-jin tests Su-min’s powers in the park stretches out a little too much and their visit to an amusement park and zoo is, despite its symbolism of entrapment and the foreshadowing contained, not quite as meaningful for the plot development and the growing affection between Su-min and Hyun-jin as perhaps intended. The film also lacks some explanations. This is not to say that explanations are always needed – in Toki o Kakeru Shōjo they are not – , but here they feel like gaps, even if relatively small ones. For one, the situation of the kidnapping victim is never quite clarified. Who are the kidnappers? What are their motives? Although we see them on the screen, we cannot tell what drives them as money is seemingly not the only thing involved. What about the blonde-haired man in the animated sequence? Is he just an angel or an altered representation of Su-min? And – without giving away too much of the plot – how exactly does the kidnapping victim’s state of existence work as characters sometimes seem be aware of her presence, sometimes not?

At the end of Chogam Kakkeopeul is a twist – one that will not come as much of a surprise for cinephiles that have watched a few films of the genre. Again, this is a little unfortunate as a tighter script might have created more of an impact on viewers. Still, for a debut feature Chogam Kakkeopeul is not only watchable but a rather promising film.

Rating: 7/10