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Contagion gets a makeover in Deranged, Park Jung-woo’s high-pitched but engrossing South Korean medical disaster film, which took in north of $20 million in its first two weeks in Korea and even beat The Amazing Spiderman over the July 13-15 weekend. It’s slated for U.S. release July 27.
The source of a million infections is a long, mutant horsehair worm that develops in the human intestine until it’s gruesomely ready to come out. The idea certainly has merit, and how can you not be impressed by the snake-like creepy crawlers that are discreetly glimpsed emerging from drowned cadavers? Focused on one family’s personal drama, without lingering on repulsive footage, the tale is watchable by the young and squeamish and could make for exotic summer entertainment offshore.
The first 20 minutes are invested in character development, creating a believable web of relationships between Jae-hyeok (Kim Myung-min), a disgruntled sales exec in a pharmaceutical company, his beleaguered wife (Mun Jung-hee) and kids and his brother Jae-pil (Kim Dong-wan), a lowly cop dating (why?) smart Dr. Kim (former Miss Korea Honey Lee.) Foreboding music and screams at an amusement park keep the audience guessing when and how the action will begin.
The pandemic starts when skin-and-bones corpses start floating down the river, bearing horrific signs of malnourishment. First the police are called in, and Jae-pil is sent upcountry to check for chemical pollution at the river’s source. Then, as more and more emaciated people are found drowned, enter the medics, with young Dr. Kim playing the role of patients’ advocate and inveighing against the inhuman measures employed by the government’s national emergency task force. As the compassionate Prime Minister strains to get the epidemic under control, it’s hard not to flash on Japan’s recent tsunami tragedy and official response to that disaster.
The most anti-Big Pharma film since The Constant Gardener, though the ending softens its criticism considerably, Deranged addresses the question of what would happen if there really was a giant conspiracy by a pharmaceutical company to create an unknown disease and stockpile the only drug able to cure it, killing thousands to maximize its own profit? But it’s not just big business that’s guilty, but also the brother-heroes addicted to playing the stock market; they parallel the masses of unbalanced victims in prey to the parasite eating away inside them and taking control of their brains, until it pushes them to commit suicide by throwing themselves into a body of water where it can continue its life cycle. That’s greed for you.
Social comment aside, writer-director Park Jung-woo does a fine job entwining the expected genre scenes of quarantine camps and mass hysteria, emergency task forces and martial law with Jae-hyeok’s drama as a below-average husband who turn into a hero when his wife and kids get infected. His relentless search for the remedy that his own company produced and hid furnishes the driving force for the main action, and Kim Myung-min projects unflinching intensity in the role. The supporting cast members, best known for their TV work, are perfectly adequate, particularly Mun Jung-hee as the infected but self-sacrificing wife who clutches her children in the segregated quarantine camp where even cell phones, the victims’ last shard of human dignity, are taken away by the anonymous authorities.
With all this material to cover, pacing is perforce fast and never self-indulgent. However, there are a number of missed opportunities to pump up the adrenaline, had the wide-screen camera only lingered a bit longer on the victims’ faces, the dogs being unleashed into the river at night or even offered us one good, long close-up at that nasty horsehair worm.
Reviewed on DVD, July 16, 2012.
Production Company: Ozone Film
Cast: Kim Myung-min, Mun Jung-hee, Kim Dong-wan, Honey Lee
Director: Park Jung-woo
Screenwriter: Park Jung-woo
Producers: Charles Park, Kim Song-o
Executive producer: Jeon Taesung
Director of photography: Ki Se-hoon
Production designer: Kang Seung-yong
Composer of music: Jo Yung-wook
Sales agent: C J Entertainment
No rating, 109 minutes
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