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Korean: M (엠)

M (2007)


Region 3 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition
KD Media
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English subtitles
Various Extras

Year: 2007
Director: Lee Myung-Se
Cast: Kang Dong-Won, Lee Yeon-Hee, Kong Hyo-Jin, Jeon Moo-Song, Song Yeong-Chang, Seo Dong-Soo, Jeong In-Gi
The Skinny: Pretty and puzzling. This mystery-romance has style to spare, but also a lack of satisfying content to make it worthwhile. An intriguing and unfulfilling exercise in neo-noir expressionism. If that's your boat, maybe M will float it.
by Kozo:

     M is pretty and puzzling. Director Lee Myung-Se (Nowhere to Run, The Duelist) helmed this mystifying film noir, which introduces many hallmarks of the genre, revealing them in an unpredictable manner before finally resolving everything with a resounding, "Ummm...yeah, so?" At least the film is pretty, and by pretty, we mean really, really pretty. No stranger to stylistic excess, Lee pulls out all the stops for M, using light, shadow, varying film speed, abundant voiceover, and more affected storytelling than should probably be allowed in any commercially-released film. M is an attempt at art, and the ability of the audience to enjoy it depends largely upon their acceptance of form as more vital than content. Lee uses his form powerfully; M is a treasure trove for fans of expressionism, who can dissect the film's composition or mise en scene until their frontal lobes bleed. However, Lee doesn't use his content quite as well. The film's journey is so alienating that felt emotion is hard to come by, despite whatever the characters may be trying to sell. For some audiences, confused irritation is also a possibility.
     Kang Dong Won is Min-Woo, a bespectacled writer who can't seem to get his new novel in gear. At the same time, his marriage to Eun-Hye (Kong Hyo-Jin) seems to be suffering slightly, as he's concentrating heavily on his new novel, and seemingly ignoring her. However, something else is nagging at him: Mi-Mi (LeeYeon-Hee), an adorable beauty who is first seen talking of her love for the frazzled Min-Woo, who she tails from place to place, quietly and just out of sight. Her stalking technique is pretty damn good, because Min-Woo never seems to notice that she's there. However, he actually is aware of her presence - but only peripherally. She seems to be haunting him from the edges of his consciousness; it's like she's always there, but she's also not, tugging at the corners of his memory, and making his daily life a surreal, dreamlike haze. When the two do finally make some connection, the question must be asked: are the two really seeing one another? Or is the meeting of Min-Woo and Mi-Mi just a remnant of memory, or worse, a precursor to madness? And why can't anyone buy a brighter lightbulb?
     Style qualifies as substance in M. Or, at least Lee Myung-Se seems to be attempting that hallowed cinema trick. To the director's credit, he gets tremendous mileage out of his style, using fleeting figures, obscuring shadows, copious visual metaphor, and existential voiceover to bring the audience into his characters' trippy, confused world. The first half-hour of the film is exceptionally disorienting because it doesn't introduce as much as throw the audience into the deep end of the pool, expecting them to sink or swim automatically. Those who can swim (a.k.a. willing cinema readers, or super fans of expressionism) may enjoy Lee's stylistic assault. The film asks audiences to observe and perceive, piecing together emotions and various clues in order to find the truth behind what's happening onscreen. Is everyone in the film alive? Are we witnessing the imaginings of an unreliable narrator? What memories are being uncovered by Minwoo's unrelenting, unconscious search? Lee raises many questions visually and emotionally, using the full complement of filmmaking powers to intrigue and involve his audience.
     Unfortunately, the final result could be infuriating to some. Lee Myung-Se is a spectacular stylist, and there's certainly some pleasure in simply immersing yourself in how the film looks, sounds and feels. The actors fit Lee's expressionistic world rather well, varying their performances to Lee's exacting vision. The problem is that the film creates suspense and tension, which would require some sort of answer, payoff, or resolution from any typical moviegoer. Answers and resolutions do occur, but a payoff? Not really. Billed in some places as a supernatural mystery-romance, M does confirm or at least hint at the accuracy of that label. But the answers it provides do not support the art film high wire act that Lee attempts. The ultimate payoff in M is prosaic and doesn't seem to justify the elaborate, technique-laden journey. M means many things: mystery, memory, moonlight, and occasionally the film hints that it could mean murder or madness - which would definitely justify the film's oppressive and portentous film noir mood. But there appears to be a genre mismatch; the film's revelations seem more fit for sappy pure love than dark film noir, and such soggy sentiments don't justify M's abundant, overwrought style. It may attempt more, but M only has moments. (Kozo 2008)

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen