Corruption. Duplicity. Revenge. Politics. Murder. There is a lot going on in Su-Jin Lee’s Idol, and it can be difficult to both follow the subtitles and follow the different threads as they weave in and out of each other. You patience will, however, be greatly rewarded if you stick with it and pay attention because there is some amazing stuff going on here.
Idol could easily have been subtitled “A Tale of Two Fathers” since two dads’ lives become intertwined and twisted together tighter and tighter over the course of the 144 minute running time (which, to be honest, feels a tad bloated). Kyung-hui Koo (Seok-kyu Han) is the first father we meet, a local councilman up for reelection who comes home to find his son’s car smashed, blood all over, and his wife desperately cleaning it all up. Oh, and there’s a dead body wrapped in plastic.
The other father is driver Joong-sik (Kyung-gu Sul) who is devastated when he finds out his own [mentally slow] son is the victim of the hit-and-run. Things get even more complicated when there turns out to be a witness to the crime who saw a woman running away from the scene. A pregnant woman. Who looked like his future daughter-in-law.
Hoo boy. As the characters circle each other, poking and jabbing, trying to find a way out of the horror, it just keeps getting dirtier and sleazier. The city of Seoul has never looked more noir-ish, and writer/director Lee has a way of framing its stark public buildings as the most menacing of environments.
As the politician, Han is buttoned-down and reserved, displaying very little emotion (even going so far as to immediately suggest that his son turn himself in at the beginning of the movie) and keeping his reactions and words on the most even of keels. Sul, however, chews the scenery like nobody’s business and plunges into the deep dark heart of Joong-sik with such purity of intention that we view him as a tragic victim of circumstance (even as he does such things as admitting to masturbating his 13-year-old son because the boy couldn’t do it for himself without drawing blood)(what?!).
The pregnant fiancée is played by Woo-hee Chun, and she starts as a peripheral character, almost an asterisk to the main story, but the more we learn about her, the more creeped out we become. As the unpredictable Chinese immigrant, Chun is deceptively superficial at first, but there is a darkness behind her smile that grows like an infected brown recluse bite, infecting everything it touches.
There is a little bit of fat in the screenplay that could have been trimmed here and there; a leaner meaner story is hiding in here just waiting to be set free. But, as it is, this is still a tragically evil story that has many double-crosses and red herrings to keep your mind whirling and your eyeballs riveted.
Idol premiered at Fantasia Film Fest on July 13, and hopefully will be released in digital formats soon. It is definitely worth your time.