Noejeolgaesul (Geo-Lobotomy) (The Kim Brothers, 2005)
[note: review originally published 18May2011]
The Kim Brothers, Gok and Sun, have been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly; their third feature, 2008’s Gogal, caused a walkout at Cannes) making a name for themselves as directors of absurd thrillers. Geo-Lobotomy, their second feature, is right up that alley. It’s not a mystery, in that the audience knows exactly what’s going on here; it’s only the main character who’s in the dark. But absurd it truly is, and while it’s been done better in other films, it’s stylish enough, with just a touch of irredeemably stupid and a climax that’s almost nuts enough to have been directed by von Trier, to make it worth watching.
Plot: I cannot for the life of me remember the main character’s name (it’s been a couple of weeks since I saw this), but he’s a middle-aged roustabout played by Kyoung-jin Min (in the Kim Brothers’ usual tradition, all the principals here are non-actors, and this is the first big-screen appearance for at least the three central characters). You might call him a slacker, but that word has connotations in America that don’t quite fit; he’s closer to a bum, but not quite. In any case, he lives in what can be charitably described as a ghost town, a former thriving mining community that went to seed when the industry bottomed out. When the town was at its worst, a hot new company called the Tomorrow Corporation moved in. Their goal: to build a massive casino that will draw tourism to the town, rejuvenating its economy. Rust-belt Americans will probably identify well here. Our protagonist stumbles—actually, murders—his way into a job interview with one of the recruiting managers for Tomorrow (Ji-hwan Park, a fellow non-actor), who promises our antihero earnest money on his sure-to-appear contract with Tomorrow if he’ll do a few errands for the company. Given the way he came to be noticed, you can imagine what these errands are. The more he kills, the more earnest money he is promised he will get, to the point where he’ll be the richest man in town. Ah, but there’s more to it than this; our antihero is a bit cracked, and he starts putting together a picture of a conspiracy under the skin of the town, eventually deciding that a local free spirited woman (Keun-young Oh) is at its heart. As he develops a taste for murder, he beings plotting to excise this cancer from his bright new future…
IMDb and the various other sites where you can find mention of the film—most of which draw their info from IMDB (though there’s a weird plot synopsis floating around that has nothing whatever to do with the movie, no idea where that came from)—call it a sci-fi/horror film. There’s a touch of sci-fi at the very end, but the horror content here is minimal, if it exists at all. This is a comedy of errors more than anything, and that is not unintentional on the part of the Kim brothers; this is a movie with pretty solid comic timing, especially during the first half. It kind of loses its way when the “let’s go after the girl” subplot digs in (Ben Cho, writing for Bright Lights film, makes comparisons here to Godard, and at least vis-a-vis the film’s meandering nature during its second half, he’s dead on), but the climax, where our antihero finds out what we knew all along, and then the Kims throw in one last twist for good measure (that’s where the sci-fi bit comes in), brings it back into sharp focus. I’d have liked it a lot better had it stayed single-mindedly funny, but it’s certainly worth checking out, especially if you happen to live in an area that will remind you uncomfortably of the town depicted here. ** ½
Not a trailer–a bit of the scene that last screenshot is taken from. What IS it with countries that use a Cyrillic alphabet having the dubbing (or narration) over the original soundtrack, rather than removing the original soundtrack?