Blind: Film Review

A thriller that generally satisfies except for a blunt ending and excessive violence.

Korean writer-director Ahn Sang-hoon unabashedly designs a thriller inspired by Terence Young's 1967 "Wait Until Dark" which starred Audrey Hepburn.

BUCHEON, South Korea — Blind, inspired by Terence Young's 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, transposes the situation of a blind British woman terrorized by three criminals to present day Korea where a sight-impaired former policewoman engages in a battle of wits with a serial killer. Ahn Sang-hoon directs with a distinguishing eye for stylish visuals and lighting contrasts to conjure up a chilling atmosphere. The screenplay, which Ahn co-wrote with Choi Min-suk and Andy Yoon offers dense plotting that alternates between cerebral riddle-solving and vigorous outbursts of action.

Regrettably, the tightly sprung suspense comes loose in the last leg, which sacrifices common sense for the sick brutality and misogyny that plague many Korean genre films.

Emphasizing Blind's ties with the 1967 classic, which earned leading lady Audrey Hepburn an Oscar nomination, may raise its visibility slightly in overseas markets, though exposure would probably still be confined to ancillary markets.

Ahn demonstrates a knack for directing road action with the heart-stopping prologue. Police trainee Min Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul) loses her sight in a highway accident and is unable to prevent the van she is driving from tipping over the bridge with her brother Dong-hyun inside. Three years later, despite the companionship of trusty guide dog Seul-ki (an adorable source of comic relief), guilt-ridden Soo-ah is barely able to stand on her feet.

One gloomy, rainy night, she travels out of town to visit the orphanage where she and Dong-hyun grew up. She waits for a call taxi to take her home, but doesn't realize that she is picked up by a private car driven by a psychopath (Yang Young-jo) who kidnaps young women to torture them to death. She narrowly escapes his clutches when he accidentally runs over a female pedestrian. When Soo-ah goes to alert the police, they take a blind person's words lightly.

Detective Cho (Cho Hee-bong) takes on the case half-heartedly. It's only when he realizes this may be linked to a series of missing women that he rolls up his sleeves to find the suspect. A young biker, Gi-sub (Yoo Seung-ho), reports seeing a plush foreign car at the crime scene, but Soo-ah is so convinced her abductor is a taxi driver that she dismisses him. By now, the psychopath has caught up with them and begins to stalk and hunt down his witnesses.

While Wait Until Dark closes in on the heroine's apartment as the main location, the action in Blind is spread out all over the city and suburbs. Yet the film's steely gray-black color scheme, cold, sheer lighting and numerous scenes of pelting rain combine in a visually coherent mis-en-scene that is uniquely urban in its callous, predatory nature. Projecting a blind person's perspective, the highway becomes a menacing stage where unpredictable perils lurk. Another scene of superb tension is set in the subway, where Gi-sub spots the psychopath in the same compartment as Soo-ah, and navigates her out of danger with her iPhone. Cinematographer Son Won-ho's unpredictable camera angles make full use of the spatial contrasts of the underground maze and the skewed images seen through an iPhone to manipulate what the audience can and what Soo-ah cannot see.

It's a smart decision on the filmmaker's part not to model the female protagonist on the original persona. Hepburn's blend of frail petal beauty and inviolate poise would have been a hard act to follow. Bright, independent and physically fit, Soo-ah's image is more in line with this contemporary version. The process in which she pieces together a profile of her nemesis through her knowledge in criminology and her heightened non-visual instincts adds a mentally satisfying dimension to the film. Kim Ha-neul conveys not only her physical toughness, but inner strength as well as a headstrong streak.

The film might have gained greater depth had the filmmakers developed the heroine’s pride, which causes her to refuse help, and a tendency to jump to conclusions into a theme about blindness in the metaphorical sense.

As the psychopath, Yang oozes malice from his urbane exterior. It's a shame that a flawed characterization prevents him from taking his performance into more complex dimensions. For as the film progresses, he is increasingly dehumanized and becomes as strong and indestructible as the Terminator. The final segment, set in the orphanage stretches credibility as Soo-ah and the biker are left stranded under utterly contrived circumstances. The climactic hide-and-seek in the dark also delivers less suspense than anticipated as it is packed with over-the-top pyrotechnics and gory violence more suitable to a slasher film than a sophisticated thriller.

Venue: Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival
Production companies: Next Entertainment World presents a MoonWatcher production in association with ISU Venture Capital Co. Ltd., East Gate Partners LLC and Benex Ventures Inc.Cast: Kim Ha-neul, Yoo Seung-ho, Cho Hee-bong, Yang Young-jo
Director: Ahn Sang-hoon
Screenwriters: Choi Min-suk, Ahn Sang-hoon, Andy Yoon
Producer: Andy Yoon
Director of photography: Son Won-ho
Production designer: Kim Sung-kyu
Music: Song Joon-seok
Costume designer: Kho Byung-ki
Editor: Shin Min-kyung
Sales: Finecut
No rating, 111 minutes