The opening line of Woo Sang must be one of the boldest in recent memory. As the camera sweeps ominously across a modern cityscape, narrator and grieving father Yoo Joong-sik (Sul Kyung-gu) drops his disarming and provocative personal confession with immense po-faced seriousness, dramatically setting the stage.

With the cold detachment and propulsive throb of Michael Mann at his finest, Woo Sang tells the story of two fathers – morally upright city councilman Koo Myung-hui (Han Seok-kyu) becomes intertwined with van driver Joong-sik when the former’s son kills the latter’s in a supposed car accident. Complications put Myung-hui under pressure to turn his son in, but inconsistent evidence leads to questions of murder and conspiracy.

Joong-sik is convinced as such and the bulk of Woo Sang’s first 90 or so minutes is preoccupied with this cat-and-mouse between the two men as Joong-sik works to dig past Myung-hui’s noble façade, while Myung-hui in turn devolves into depravity to keep the skeletons in his closet hidden.

It’s compelling stuff, as director Lee Su-jin conducts proceedings with elegance and vigour, deploying unsettling imagery and operatic needle-drops to denote the ambition of his project.

At 140 minutes, Woo Sang is overlong and only saved from its baggy second act when Ryeon-hwa (Chun Woo-hee), wife of Joong-sik’s late son, enters the narrative as a volatile, active participant. Chun gives a stunning turn as a spurned woman desperate to move past trauma and regain her autonomy.

Dealing in political corruption, mental disability, class and immigration policy, Woo Sang is overstuffed with huge ideas forcing it to lose sight of the merits at its core. When focused, however, Lee cooks up a captivating, stomach-turning parable that surprises and disturbs.

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Han Seok-kyu, Sul Kyung-gu, Chun Woo-hee

DIRECTOR: Lee Su-jin

WRITER: Lee Su-jin

SYNOPSIS: Politician Koo Myung-hui is in the midst of the run-up to an election when he one day discovers his wife in the garage, frantically cleaning their son Johan’s blood-splattered car. Their son has just run someone over, and has brought the dead man’s body back home.

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London-based journalist. Flailing film freelancer. Bylines at ORWAV, CineVue, Sight & Sound, more. Waiting for Greta Gerwig and Barry Jenkins to team up and save the world. Terrified of inevitable Star Wars over-saturation. Proud Yorkshire kid.