Bottom line: A visual feast that's starved of ideas and meaningFor those who think conventional linear narrative is passe, but also have no time for gritty digital indies with interminably long takes, "M" might be a hip albeit hollow alternative for style chasers.
Directed by Lee Myungse, one of the most exciting stylists in Korean cinema, "M" outdoes his previous martial arts mind-boggler "Duelist" in sensual imagery and esoteric meaning.
Like "Duelist," "M" has raised expectations in the local industry but will douse the curiosity of popular audiences at home and abroad. It premiered in Toronto without making a strong impression, and further festival invitations after PIFF are hard to predict.
Perhaps made with an oblique nod to Fritz Lang's classic 1931 thriller of the same title, "M" has the semblance of a psychological suspense but is actually a love story.
The protagonist, Min-woo (Gang Dong-weon), is a writer of a best-seller who has hit a creative impasse on his second book. Haunted in daydreams and nightmares by a woman who calls herself Mimi, both Min-woo and the audience become confused about these encounters. Are they flashback memories, dream visions or scenes from his book? This is further confounded by the opening sequences, when everything is seen through Mimi's perspective, and she seems to be stalking him. Later, there is a reversal when she is seen being stalked by Murnau-like phantom shadows, and visual trope involving hands that shape themselves like claws.
Min-woo finds himself revisiting a bar named Lupin where he meets Mimi. Later on, he recalls his first love in high school, and there are some wonderfully nostalgic scenes of their meeting and parting outside an old-fashioned barber shop. His fiancee Eunhye first becomes worried, then suspicious that he is two-timing her. He tells her Mimi is the title of his manuscript. After more play on the theme of memory, the film slouches toward a conclusion that no one is particularly bothered about.
With a whole 110 minutes of moving images hanging by a wisp of a plot, it's best to leave your logic in a locker before taking your seat so you can let the cascade of intoxicating visuals wash over you.
Anyone who thinks "M" is effectively a feature-length MTV will find themselves among a sizable majority. Even the versatile and atmospheric music, by Korea's top-notch composer Cho Sung-woo cannot redeem the film from its jumbled, episodic state.
In fact, Lee Myung-se offers advice on his own film in the words typed out by Min-soo: "less poetic, more specific."
Director/screenwriter/production designer: Lee Myung-se
Co-screenwriter: Lee Hae-kyung
Producer: Cho Sung-woo
Director of photography: Alex Hong
Music: Cho Sung-woo
Editor: Ko Im-pyo.
Han Min-woo: Gang Dong-won
Mimi: Lee Yeonhee
Eunhye: Gong Hyo-jin.
Running time 110 minutes.