Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Villain (2010)

Directed by Sang-Il Lee
Starring: Eri Fukatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Akira Emoto, Hikari Mitsushima, Masuo Keijo, Kirin Kiki, Masaki Okada
Grade: B

Japanese director Sang-Il Lee has seemingly decided to follow in the footsteps of his Korean peers with new murky crime thriller, "Villain." The film, about an unhinged young man's approach to sexual relationships, emulates the recent works of Bong Joon-ho and Lee Chang-dong - "Mother" and "Poetry" respectively - in so much as it details the impact of crime on the families of said criminals and where the blame behind their deeds resides. As a part of recent attempts to address the social and contextual factors attributed to spawning criminality, one would tentatively describe "Villain" as part of a cinematic trend, and foremost an indication that Asian cinema is providing alternatively rich perspectives on perceived societal evils.

When we first spy petrolhead Shimizu (Tsumabuki) he’s loitering at a gas station and looking thoroughly bored with existence. While he doesn’t loom as a particularly dangerous figure, his presence intimidates through what appears to be an ambivalent disassociation with his surroundings. This young man is an emotionless wildcard. And as we follow him on his journey to meet popular college girl Yoshino (Mitsushima) his thorough lack of belief in either himself or anyone else quickly comes to the fore. The night does not go well for Shimizu when Yoshino spurns his advances and takes off into the sunset with her local crush Masuo, and the discovery of her dead body the following morning raises serious questions. Is Shimizu the prime suspect in her murder?

The ensuing conflicts are separated between Shimizu confronting his involvement in Yoshino’s final hours, and the grief-stricken parents of the girl trying to gain perspective on how and why she died. When Shimizu is hunted down by police he flees home, aided-and-abetted by Mitsuyo (Fukatsu), a girl he met just days earlier in a random internet meeting. As his situation becomes increasingly precarious he and Mitsuyo develop a strong attachment, which leads them to go into hiding from the law and the world.

"Villain" achieves much emotional heft through its construction of Shimizu and Mitsuyo, two central characters with an inherently awkward lack of social skills and self-worth. Theirs is a connection founded upon solitude and necessity, both exhibiting impulsive and wildly off-kilter relationship ethics through having so far lived modest, sheltered lives. You can gauge a significant sense of backstory from even their first five minutes together, as they murmur sheepishly in a car with little sense of how to build a dynamic or engage beyond pleasantries and eventual physical gratification. Founded upon this partnership “Villain” succeeds as an interconnected would-be Shakespearian tragedy, very much a fresh take on the emotive aggression of youth but possessed with the bitter melancholia of classic works.

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