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Say Yes

Review by: 
Sae-yi yaeseu
Release Date: 
Third Window Films
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Kim Sung-Hong
Park Joong-Hoon
Chu Sang Mi
Kim Ju-hyuk
Bottom Line: 

 This South Korean horror thriller is a slick but somewhat puzzling affair in that it appears to conform in the most depressing manner to mainstream Hollywood values for its first two thirds, only to unleash a nihilistic strain of bloody horror, more in line with the much-lauded Korean thriller "Tell Me Something"(1999), in its last half hour; this after having first presented the viewer with a false ending that conforms to tidy TV movie conventions. It's hard to tell if the film's cliché-ridden approach is a deliberate ploy to lull the viewer into a false sense of security before revealing its true intentions at the last moment, or if the whole thing is a highly contrived attempt to have it both ways: appealing to a mainstream audience while simultaneously looking for kudos for its 'uncompromising' downbeat finale. The trouble is, even this brutal ending is highly predictable as it is an obvious rehash of the conclusion of "Se7en" -- albeit with an unsubtle amount of grue added for extra emphasis. 
The film is in much the same mould as "The Hitcher" (1986) with a dab of "The Vanishing" (1988) and even "Pacific Heights" (1990) thrown in. Park Joong-Hoon takes the Rutger Hauer role as a psychopathic loner who randomly accosts a newly married middle-class couple in a service station while the two are en route to a beach holiday destination to celebrate the publication of Jeong-hyun's (Kim Ju-hyuk) first novel.  Only later do we discover the killer's motive for choosing this unassuming couple: "because you looked happy!" he tells Jeong-hyun, be which point he has made the poor man's life a living hell. 
Despite his pretty wife Yun-hie's misgivings after she warns him about the shabbily dressed stranger staring at her in the service station canteen, Jeong-hyun feels obligated to give the man a lift after he 'accidentally' throws himself into the path of the couple's car as they reverse out of the car park. The stranger then proceeds to behave in a most ungrateful manner, puffing smoke into the non-smoking couple's faces and asking Jeong-hyun, in an ominous tone of voice, how much he wants to live ... for a 'joke'! This somewhat inappropriate sense of humour already echoes Jeong-hyun's 'joke' at the top of the film when he pretended to his distressed wife that his novel had been rejected by the publisher; hence, a connection between male protagonist and antagonist has already been established at an early stage, and this comes to have a resonance at the very end of the film.
Eventually, the couple manage to persuade the threatening presence to exit their vehicle, although not before he promises to make good on his initial promise, this time claiming: "I never joke!" The time-honoured "cat-and-mouse" formula soon kicks into action for the middle section of the film, with the couple's murderous nemesis always one step ahead of them and manipulating events every step of the way. Things start off quietly, with a rock smashing through their hotel window, interrupting a bout of mildly erotic love making. Next, their pursuer tailgates them off the road and then torments Jeong-hyun into violence towards him in front of witnesses, by making lewd suggestions about Yun-hie. The couple decide to soothe away their troubles at a Hot Springs Hotel, but while his wife relaxes indoors in the female section (allowing some pleasantly distracting nudity to enhance the film's commercial appeal) the stranger creeps up behind Jeong-hyun while he's in a steam pool, and almost drowns him. When the couple attempt to leave, Jeong-hyun finds himself accosted by the police and arrested for his earlier "assault" upon the stranger.
With this legal hold over the couple, the stranger now attempts to manipulate them into allowing him to continue to travel with them, even though his murderous intentions are all too clear. The true state of their pursuer's psyche is soon made apparent when he viscously assaults Jeong-hyun in a rest room, goading him into trying to kill him and mocking his inability to protect his wife. This soon becomes the main theme of the film: after much more of the above sort of thing, and an attempt to escape that results only in Yun-hie being kidnapped by the killer, Jeong-hyun's ability to protect his wife and the true value he is prepared to place on her life takes centre stage. All through the film, Jeong-hyun tries to play the role of the capable husband who always comes up with the answers and is always able to reassure his troubled spouse. As the couple get ever more embroiled in a nightmarish situation Jeong-hyun is drawn into a scenario where he is made to suffer terrible physical pain with the prospect of relief only coming if he is prepared to sanction the murder of his own wife!
The film is watchable enough throughout this first hour and ten minutes, but, despite the protagonists being outwitted by their anonymous tormentor at every turn, the viewer will see it all coming a mile off! All the usual conventions of this type of genre flick are present and correct, especially the antagonist's seeming indestructibility. In "The Hitcher," and in such films as "Halloween", at least this is explained by the suggestion of some sort of supernatural agency. No such explanation is ever given in "Say Yes" yet the killer is beaten repeatedly around the head with a shovel and has a pitch fork buried in his chest, apparently without any long-term damage being inflicted whatsoever! 
The final half hour feels like it belongs in a much darker film; the tone suddenly becomes grittier, less reliant on the mechanics of its previously cited influences and much more in line with the uncompromising bleakness of "Tell Me Something". It gets close to presaging modern horror thrillers such as "Saw" and "Hostel" but by then it is much too late in the day to save the film completely from its derivative leanings. Kim Sung-Hong directs with sufficient flare to hold the viewer's interest, but Cue Sang Mi and Kim Ju-hyuk, as the two lead protagonists, are caught in something of a bind, since they are forced to play some rather two dimensional characters who are difficult to empathise with very strongly; while Park Jooong-Hoon's brutal stranger is, by definition, a mere cipher for relentless, un-vanquishable evil.
Third Window Films present a decent anamorphic transfer with readable, though sometimes clunkily translated, subtitles. Extras include a trailer and twenty-seven minutes of behind the scenes footage.

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