The Butcher



Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

BUCHEON, South Korea -- Attending his Q&A session in an "Ichi the Killer" T-shirt, "The Butcher" director Kim Jin-won is a self-professed fan of Takashi Miike. Yet, far from imitating his idol's sophisticated sadism and elaborate film language, Kim's aesthetic of violence is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Underlying the splurging blood and dripping intestines however, is a rather cool observation of human nature, and sly manipulation of audience reaction.

While Korean filmmakers are known for their unique and powerful way of choreographing violence, "The Butcher" is altogether a different, mutant species from such stylish, studio-crafted gems as "Old Boy", "A Bitter Sweet Life" or "A Dirty Carnival." The self-financed film does not meet the national rating criterion, and due to its home-movie production values, will have difficulty getting commercial release. However, since blood lust is cross-cultural, the film is ensured a slot in midnight screenings at festivals around the world, and in underground or cult cinemas. Straight-to-video release is also a possibility. Given that the slasher genre has yet to take off in Korea, the film will have to start off on the underground or internet circuit, before it gains any following.

A self-confessed horror flick fan, the director has managed to distill all his influences into a linear, pared-to-the-bone narrative with a streak of black humor. "Butcher" is basically a "making-of" of a making of a snuff movie. Taking place mostly in a pig's barn, a film crew comprised of the director, his assistant and the butcher get straight down to business with the "cast" -- four people they've caught and hand-cuffed, with camcorders tied to the top of their heads. The first two are unceremoniously dispatched with hammer, knife and saw. Next turn is a married couple. To satisfy their American audiences' fastidious taste, the crew tries to come up with more gimmicks. The husband is given two alternative tests, one of which will set his wife free, while the other will set himself free. Like a "survivor" game show, the trial reveals the human instinct for self-preservation.

Two POVs -- of the crew and restricted vision from the camcorders tied to the captives' head, alternate with each other with dizzying, handheld effect. As a result, the audience also alternates between identifying with the victims' plight, and becoming an accomplice to the crew in meting out torture -- just as the captive is given the choice to endure or inflict pain. The DV camera is used to the film's advantage in generating images of a rough, fuzzy texture and washed out color that accentuates the bleakness of the mis en scene and the bestial, elemental universe it tries to depict.

Devil Groove Pictures
Screenwriter-director-producer-editor: Kim Jin-won
Director of photography: Lee Sang-hyun
Art director: Moon So-hyun
Jaehyun: Yoo Dong-heun
Wife: Ha Yoo-hee
Director Kim: Kim Sung-il
Bongsik: Lee Moo-nyung
Butcher/Victim: Seo Myung-hyun
Running time -- 76 minutes
No MPAA rating