Parallel Life -- Film Review

A well-scripted and gripping mystery thriller.

BUCHEON, South Korea -- “Parallel Life” pits self-determinism against self-fulfilling prophesy through the case of a judge who, while investigating his wife's murder, discovers that his life may exactly replicate that of someone who died 30 years ago. With this as a hook and fine casting, first-time director Kwon Ho-young rises to the occasion, less as a master of atmosphere or style than as an efficient operator who ensures the detail-laden plot runs like clockwork with few lulls or inconsistencies.

In addition to domestic release in Korea, the film has found theatrical distribution in Japan. Although the plot points sometimes have the familiar ring of Hollywood B-thrillers, it is well-made enough to pique ancillary interest.

The film's motif of doubles, or shared destinies, is expressed at the opening credits when a news montage insinuates the similarities between the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy. In the prologue, homicide criminal Professor Sohn is being interrogated in prison. He wrote a book named “Parallel Theory” and claims his life is a replica of Kurt Godel, a mathematician who was Einstein's contemporary. Since Godel died of self-starvation, Sohn has stopped eating.

The main story revolves around protagonist Kim Seok-hyun (Ji Jin-hee), who's enjoying a meteoric rise in his career as a judge when his lovely wife Bae Yoon-kyung (Yoon Se-a) is murdered. A reporter tells him that 30 years ago, a man named Han Sang-joon was appointed presiding judge of Seoul the same month and day Kim got that title. Both Han's and Kim's wives were murdered, their bodies found on the same mountain, on the same day, 30 years apart. A meeting with Sohn spurs Kim to uncover more ominous data: Han, his young son and his aide all died in his home not long after his wife's death.

Unlike many mediocre Korean mystery-thrillers that start off promisingly but habitually descend into an irrational Grand Guignol, “Parallel Life” is well-scripted enough to place clues, rather than red herrings along the way, so that the final twist, though not scientifically provable, makes sense within the film's own fatalistic logic. The epilogue montage replays a scene that, with audience hindsight, is uncannily evocative.

Sharply edited and fast-paced, the film sustains attention through out. Its only weakness is the paucity of individual scenes of high-strung tension or nail-biting suspense. Also dubious is Kim's tendency to rummage through confidential data or crime scene evidence without wearing gloves. As a judge, shouldn’t he know better?

The able male actors know what's expected of them and deliver no more, no less. Ji's sculpted features and slightly stiff demeanor make him particularly well-cast as Kim. Despite being under-used, Ha Jung-woo (the serial killer in “The Chaser”) brings an unnerving volatile vibe to his role as Bae's murder suspect. Park Byon-eun is also appropriately inconspicuous as Kim's aide.

Venue: Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival
Production: CJ Entertainment, Dasepo Club Co. Ltd.
Cast: Ji Jin-hee, Park Byon-eun, Ha Jung-woo, Lee Jong-Hyuk, Yoon Se-a
Director: Kwon Ho-young
Screenwriter: Lee Young-jong
Producer: Sean Lee
Executive producers: Katharine Kim
Director of photography: Lee Jong-youl
Production designer: Jun Soo-a
Music: Nam Su-jin
Costume designer: Chae Kyung-hwa
Editor: Kim Sun-min
Sales: CJ Entertainment
No rating, 110 minutes