'A Record of Sweet Murder' ('Aru Yasashiki Satsujinsha no Kiroku'): PiFan review

Courtesy of Nikkatsu
Found-footage stylings fail to lift a slight execution of a promising premise.

Japanese helmer Koji Shiraishi's thriller chronicles a deranged man's violent confrontations with his victims in a dilapidated apartment in Seoul.

Boasting a knife-wielding serial killer spewing nonsense about "the power of love" and a smattering of rough sex scenes performed by an adult video starlet, A Record of Sweet Murder looks, at first glance, like the work of a filmmaker sliding toward the outre. But for Japanese director Koji Shiraishi, it's a sign of him mellowing out; this is someone, after all, whose aptly titled 2009 gore-fest Grotesque (which flaunted its own scenes of disembowelment, castration and decapitation) was denied a screening license by censors in Britain.

While his lurid aesthetics were, and are, very questionable, at least that approach secured him a niche. Record, however, is middling fare, devoid of controversy or substance, its only calling card being the fact that the film is shot nearly entirely in one take and in one single room. This Seoul-set thriller's world premiere at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival on July 19 might prove to be its high water mark; its release in South Korea and then Japan (Sept. 17) likely will be of interest only to the director's fanbase or admirers of adult-video actress Tsukasa Aoi, who has lately enjoyed a crossover of sorts with cameos (as — what else? — a soft-porn star) in the Hong Kong comedy Naked Ambition 3D and the Taiwanese sitcom True Love 365.

A Nikkatsu-backed Japanese-South Korean co-production, Record is Shiraishi's second interview-with-a-criminal mockumentary in four years. Whereas 2011's Hyper Villain was thoroughly lurid  it followed a journalist interviewing and filming a serial rapist committing his 108th offense — Record is fuzzier in both its story and its depiction of sex and violence. The movie revolves around a man's deadly obsession with finding salvation through pure love, which somehow entails subjecting victims to violence — and even killing them.

The man in question here is Sang-joon (Yeon Je-wook), who is on the run for multiple murders he committed around the city. As the film begins, he's just a voice on the telephone, as journalist So-yeon (Kim Kko-bbi) converses with him about the upcoming interview he's scheduled with her. It emerges that they are childhood friends, and he knifed people to avenge a deadly event that has haunted the pair for years. In a subsequent scene, So-yeon and her Japanese cameraman (played by Shiraishi himself) make their way to a cramped apartment to record Sang-joon's explanations about the killings.

There's a design at work, Sang-joon explains, and he needs to murder at least two more people in order to complete his mission, and his prediction of a Japanese couple (Tsukasa and Ryotaro Yonemura) appearing at the flat somehow comes true. What ensues is a standoff between everyone concerned, as things spiral into ugly fights and bouts of coitus that are straight out of porn-fueled fantasies.

While the premise has potential for intrigue — the ending, especially, cooks up a pleasant surprise — the story itself never really takes off. The director has obviously banked on the uninterrupted take of the five characters arguing and assaulting each other in a small room (the shot lasts for almost all of the film's 86-minute length) producing tension and transcending the "found footage" gimmick he has employed in all his films since 2005's J-Horror flick The Curse.

Unfortunately, the one-cut approach only exposes the slightness of the story and the screenplay: There's too much screaming about what the characters would, could and should (or should not) do, especially in the film's first half hour, during So-yeon and Sang-joon's seemingly interminable conversation about the past. Amid all the carnage, the cameraman keeps on filming, as if entranced by the ghastly randomness of it all. It's a state of mind that Shiraishi perhaps shares — and that's not a good thing.

Venue: Online screening (World Fantastic Cinema section, Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival)

Production companies: Nikkatsu, Zoa Films

Cast: Yeon Je-wook, Kim Kko-bbi, Tsukasa Aoi, Ryotaro Yonemura

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Screenwriter: Koji Shiraishi

Producers: Yoshi Kino, Choi Yu-ri

Executive producer: Akifumi Suguhara, Lee Eun-kyoung

Director of photography: Sun Sang-jae

Production designer: Song Yun-hyoung

Costume designer: Song Yun-hyoung

Editor: Kim Mun-pyo

International Sales: Nikkatsu

In Korean and Japanese

No rating; 86 minutes

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