H (2002)

00000588It’s difficult to create an original and exciting murder mystery these days, especially since there have been so many murder mysteries that have promised an explosion and really just ended up a dud. Sadly, “H” is really no different. While it’s not a horrible piece of filmmaking, it’s sadly just standard. Mismatched pair of officers, both with their own sordid pasts, an elusive killer, a genius serial killer taunting the officers, gruesome murders alluding to abortion, body part and blood splattered clues left behind, red herrings, plot twists, and barely any exposition, all for a surprise ending. I’ve seen it all before, and “H” never rises to the occasion to challenge that formula and create its own niche upon which to break free from, so it remains a typical cop drama with a great ending.

I was sad after watching “H” mainly because the climax blew me away; it literally had me with wide eyes and a gaping jaw, and when I was finished I asked “Why couldn’t the rest of the film have been this way?” Sadly, my answer was even more depressing. I get bored even describing the plot, but here goes: Girls are showing up dead all over the city, all with an intricate death which has the police baffled. Each girl is showing up at random with a particular link, and they’ve discovered the murders are copying those of a vicious murderer named Shin-Hyun. Hyun is one part John Doe, one part Hannibal Lecter, and one part Edward Norton in “Primal Fear”.

He sits in chains and talks to officers with a half smirk because he’s extremely intelligent, and has something up his sleeve. He’s prepared to die though in death row, and refuses to let the officers in on why and how these girls are connected to one another. Altogether though, “H” is an underwhelming mystery with all the usual odds and ends of what you’d expect if you were watching a typical Ashley Judd murder mystery. Cops throw dialogue back and forth, the pacing is slow, the deaths are gruesome, there are the red herrings, and very verbose characterization, but it lacks tension. It’s in many senses a lackluster effort in spite of the potential for being something truly special. The chases, the imagery, the slow unraveling of the true meaning of the murder mystery really unfolds in a boring utterly drab atmosphere that really didn’t keep me hooked to the action.

Many times I found myself looking to the time clock to see if it was almost over, and it never once pulled me in. In spite of what I’ve thought of with “H” as a final product, it pulls one of the most effective punches to the gut I’ve seen in a movie in years, without a doubt. Detective Kang after going nearly five rounds in verbal boxing with the vicious killer Shin-Hyun, the climax closes in quite possibly one of the more twisted–albeit farfetched–unveilings of a serial killers true conscious effects on all parties involved in their circle, and I was taken for a loop with Lee’s complete mind fuck if a final moment that showed the audience what killers are capable of involuntarily. Lee’s direction is very good for what ensues in the plot, as he’s able to define the story’s attempts at tension with excellent murkiness, and gritty nuance.

All of which are led by very strong performances by Jin-hee Ji and Jung-ah Yum, both of whom share a dichotomous relationship revolving around Hyun. Ji’s performance as the cocky detective Kang really stands out among the cast with shades of Brad Pitt in “Seven”, and his dealings with the killer Hyun are engrossing. But when all was said and done, I really could have been given more from the experience, instead of another episode of “CSI” ala David Fincher. It’s hard to completely hate this film. It provided some rather strong performances, excellent direction, and a really shocking and original surprise ending that took the predictable and made it pop, however I just couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a weak David Fincher film, underwhelming murder mystery and all. Sadly, it’s typical, and it never rises to the occasion to become great.