In the year 2020, a serial killer is on the loose in a unified Korea, and the Special Investigation Unit is assigned to bring the perpetrator to justice. The unit is led by Yun Suk (Kim Sung-Wu), a hard-bitten investigator with a past that is equal parts tragic and mysterious, depending on the parts he can remember due to some rather peculiar bout of amnesia. His prey goes by the name of Goliath, and his latest crime is the successful kidnapping of a police chief, who just so happens to be the father of a famous criminal profiler, Kim Hi-Su (Yunjin Kim of LOST).
Eager to find her dad, Hi-Su tags along for the investigation, despite repeated warnings by Yun Suk to stop meddling in police business. Not so coincidentally, Hi-Su also suffers from a strange form of amnesia, which, as Iím sure youíve guessed, ties directly into the enigma of Yun Sukís own past. It seems that their lives and that of the serial killer are connected to a top secret black ops project involving gene alteration. Fans of the Metal Gear Solid series will have an easier time processing the finale than most - but not by much.
While the filmís DP, Jung Han-Chul, took home the Silver Prize at the Golden Cinema Festival for Yesterday, the look and feel of the movie is decidedly Blade Runner Lite. In truth, the filmmakers seem less interested in establishing a distinctive mood or atmosphere than they are in just blowing things up. In the first reel of the film, thereís a hostage situation gone wrong, a serial killer on the loose, explosions galore, and even a guns ablaziní firefight at an academic lecture. Itís a confusing whirl of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Itís not artfully executed, and even worse, when it comes to story or characters, thereís very little for the audience to invest in - thus, the action carries little weight with the viewer. Although how much a film makes is rarely an indication of its actual quality, Iím not surprised that Yesterday was one of the biggest box office duds of 2002.
The filmmakers donít seem too interested in explaining whatís going on during the bulk of the story, and when the killerís motivations and the film's “big secret” are finally revealed, itís all quite a letdown. Ultimately, it boils down to a simple revenge plot featuring a guy suffering from an Oedipus complex with a few sci-fi elements thrown in for good measure. Although coming in at only a little under two hours, the film drags on for what feels like an eternity thanks to the filmmakersí less than stellar handling of the narrative.
The lackluster story could easily have been saved by the actors, but unfortunately, thereís very little room for them to shine. The characters are flat, and the performances donít help matters much either. Kim Sung-Wu is a total waste of space as Yun Suk, quite possibly the most dull protagonist in any Korean film Iíve seen to date. Yunjin Kim is only slightly better, although itís a bit annoying that she wears the same expression throughout the film: a perpetual look of concern with her eyes wide and mouth slightly agape.
Barring one notable exception, the rest of the Special Investigation Unit fares no better than the two leads. They arenít even clichťs, e.g. the young hothead, the veteran two days from retirement, etc. We know absolutely nothing about them, not even their personalities, so who cares if they get shot? They are cannon fodder personified. Even the so-called super baddie Goliath, played by Choi Min-Su, is a major letdown, as both the character and the actorís performance are eminently forgettable. As a result, I imagine quite a few viewers will find themselves having zero attachment to anything happening onscreen.
The lone bright spot in the film is Kim Sun-Ah of My Lovely Sam-Soon fame. Kim plays May, the tough-as-nails, trigger-happy member of the Special Investigation Unit. Thanks to her leather fetish and a penchant for temporary face tattoos, her character is the most interesting of the bunch. Kim is relegated to a supporting role, and her character is underwritten - a terrible shame, as she clearly has a charisma the other leads lack. She could have easily carried this picture if cast as the lead protagonist.
The only other hope of improvement that I witnessed occurred about halfway through the film. During what should have been a tense hostage situation involving a brutal psychopath, the investigators choose a rather ingenious way of dealing with this otherwise life-or-death situation: they donít take the hostage taker seriously and proceed to ignore him. Itís a surprisingly funny scene, one that suggested a personality and voice that the filmmakers hadnít yet established. But that enlivening moment was fleeting; the big budget Yesterday never does find its footing, and the result is little more than forgettable, Z-grade schlock. (Calvin McMillin, 2008)