BIFF 2012 Review: Strong Performances Can't Save Revenge Flick AZOOMA

When exploring Korean cinema, you can't go very far without bumping into a revenge thriller. Park Chan-wook's 'Vengeance' trilogy and Kim Jee-woon's A Bittersweet Life (2005) are just a few of the more high profile examples. However, of late, this sub-genre has become increasingly popular among independent filmmakers looking to make their mark in the industry. The format seems to supersede horror, sci-fi and other genres as the low-budget debut of choice. The results, however, have been very mixed.

From a narrative standpoint, revenge flicks are rather easy to construct though putting together one that stands out becomes a more complicated task. Azooma, a new offering featuring a female protagonist, doesn't take great pains to present us with an original story. Instead, it experiments with structure by cutting up a very standard revenge plot and rearranging it. A potentially interesting idea, the execution is sadly undermined by the underdeveloped story, which no matter what way it is sequenced, is bereft of any surprises. Any attempt to feed us new information through a fractured chronology falls flat, as we can already assume it all ahead of its revelation.

A single mother's young daughter goes missing one evening and is found on the street later that night following her abduction and rape. She goes to the police but they don't seem too concerned with tracking down the perpetrator of this atrocious crime. Even her estranged husband, a famous dentist, would rather not pursue the matter for fear of losing face. Eventually it becomes clear that she is the only person she can rely on to bring the rapist to justice.

While the narrative may be rote and the narrative machinations mostly unsuccessful, the film does impress with regards to its actors. Jang Yeong-nam gives her all as the mother driven to the edge: her desperation is palpable to the point of being upsetting. Ma Dong-seok on the other hand is thoroughly convincing as a gruff police detective who comes off as callous and apathetic, but at the same time sympathetic and somewhat helpless in his position. Both have been a strong streak lately, especially Ma, who was great in this year's Nameless Gangster and Neighbors, but sadly their dynamism is not enough to put the film back on track.

For those that do see the film, the most memorable moment will likely be its brief but brutal conclusion. Within a mostly tempered narrative it comes off as incongruous but more than that it's unnecessarily grotesque and off-putting. It's not as though Korean cinema needed another addition to its bountiful array of revenge thrillers but Azooma doesn't breathe enough new life into the formula to be worth the detour.
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