The Pit and the Pendulum



Pusan International Film Festival, Vision

The fragmentation of knowledge is at the heart of "The Pit and the Pendulum," a pseudo-mystery with multiple layers that unfurls minute by minute. The film is fortunate to have an appealing young cast that could carry the film to moderate success in Asian indie theaters, however, its mainstream tone could hurt it on an international festival circuit that demands more art from its programming. Asian fests are sure bet.

The film begins with four friends at a funeral, talking about the good -- and bad -- old days with thesis student Sangtae (Kim Tae Hun). Jeonghoon (Lee Wha Young) is an academic that worked with him in the history department at a university; Sangdong (Joe Young Kyu) is a salary man and eminently patient drinking buddy; Sungik (Lee Hee Jun) is a hiking partner; and Byungtae (Park Byung Eun) is the main romantic and professional rival that dates back to the men's army days. Into the mix comes Sangtae's old flame, Eunyong (Youm Ji Young), who adds her own piece to the larger puzzle about the conflicted man.

The theme driving "The Pit and the Pendulum" is the fluidity and subjectivity of history -- both micro and macro -- and as each character weighs in with their impressions of the volatile Sangtae, a little bit more of the whole picture comes to light. It's not terribly difficult to figure out where the significance of each character lies, but writer-director Sohn Young Sang is so light with his touch, and makes Sangtae such a vivid enigma, that the clues slip by, only to come back later for the proverbial bite.

Narratively speaking, "The Pit and the Pendulum" has its problems, chief among them the penchant for flashbacks that recall events the person reminiscing was not present for, a common, irritating film and television hiccup. There's also an extraneous subplot about a homicidal cabbie that only touches the main story on the periphery. But Sohn plays with viewer expectations just enough to forgive (if not forget) those glitches, and slowly and meticulously builds his modest personal mystery. As Sungtae, Kim leans to the slightly hysterical at times, but the rest of the cast is strong enough to allow for that one misstep. Any film with the kind of forward momentum on display here is a welcome change from the usual festival-style self-indulgence.

A Sohn Young Sung production
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Credits: Director: Sohn Young Sung; Writer: Sohn Young Sung; Producer: Song Jae Young; Director of photography: Park Hong Ryul; Production designer: Kang Ji Hyun; Music: Kang Min Suk; Editor: Lee Jung Min.
Cast: Sangtae: Kim Tae Hun; Byungtae: Park Byung Eun; Sangik: Lee Hee Jun; Jeonghoon: Lee Wha Young; Sangdong: Joe Young Kyu; Eunyong: Youm Ji Young
Not rated, running time 91 minutes.