The Neighbors: Busan Review

A psychokiller moves into the neighborhood in a fairly standard issue South Korean suspense thriller with ghosts.

"Lost" actress Yunjin Kim stars in director Kim Hwi's South Korean suspense thriller about ghosts and a serial killer.

BUSAN –  A lot of the goings-on in apartment blocks can be scary, especially when souped up with ghosts and psychokillers as in the South Korean thriller The Neighbors, a local boxoffice hit released late August. Despite the fact director Kim Hwi reveals the identity of the serial killer immediately, he skillfully keeps the suspense rolling with a bit of comedy tossed in to lighten the dark mood. But apart from a warm performance by Yunjin Kim from ABC’s Lost, there’s not a lot to distinguish the film from other well-done genre titles.

The story is based on a popular web comic book from 2008 by Kang Pool (a.k.a. Kang Full), which may account for some of its local interest. Hwi’s screenplay is written as an ensemble piece for nine quickly sketched characters, without allowing any of them to step forward and center the film.  While the tale at first seems to indict their selfish indifference to the plight of the people next door, the neighbors do come together in the end to route the criminal and end his entirely unmotivated killing-spree.  

The first murder is particularly repellent. Sad-eyed little Yeo-sun (Kim Sae-ron) is abducted and killed by Ahn Song-yoon (Do Ji-han), the nasty-looking fellow on the first floor who never showers and has a basement that resembles a torture chamber. The murder is especially traumatic for Kyung-hee (Yunjin Kim), the girl’s new step-mother who was still trying to break the ice with her. And it’s even worse when the dead child starts reappearing to her as a ghost. Her husband and the neighbors are anything but supportive.

This supernatural thread is soon dropped, however. Kyung-hee becomes very protective towards another little girl, Soo-yeon (also played by the versatile child thesp Kim Sae-ron) who, despite her big glasses, long hair and Girl Scouty disposition, bears a striking resemblance to the dead Yeo-sun.

Meanwhile, a neighborhood crusade is underway against wasting water, electricity and even throwing food out.  Leading it is Soo-yeon’s incredibly obnoxious young Mom and the old janitor, who sees his chance for extra tips. All this pettiness overlooks the glaring fact (and everyone has clues) that a serial killer is living in their midst.

Though nobody gets enough screen time to fully develop as a character, the acting is professional throughout. Noteworthy in one of these roles is Ma Dong-seok as a very tough ex-con you wouldn’t want to cross in the parking lot.

Venue:  Asian Film Market (Busan)
A Lotte Entertainment presentation of a Zion Entertainment production
Kim Yunjin, Kim Sae-ron, Cheon Ho-jin, Im Ha-ryong, Kim Sung-kyun, Ma Dong-seok
Director: Kim Hwi
Screenwriters: Kim Hwi based on a web comic by Kang Pool
Producer: Seok Jae-Seung
Co-producers: Gu Seong-mok, Pak Jeong-hyeok, Yi Yong-ho
Director of photography: Jung Seong-wook
Production designer: Lee Mok-won
Costumes: Han Song-gyeong
Music: Sin I-gyeong
Sales Agent: Lotte Entertainment
No rating, 110 minutes.