Director: Bang Eun-jin
Starring: Ryoo Seung-beom, Lee Yo-won, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Bo-ra
Actress turned director Bang Eun-jin directs this adaptation of the acclaimed novel The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino, one of the most successful Japanese mystery novels ever and a Naoki Award winner. A loose adaptation, the film offers a singular and more focused story to this story which was part of a series popularly referred to as Galileo. Starring versatile actor, Ryoo Seung-beom; actress/model Lee Yo-won; and entertainment world regular Jo Jin-woong, Perfect Number features a strong ensemble castin one of this year’s most anticipated Korean thrillers.
The Perfect Number, also known as Suspect X, follows genius level mathematician and teacher Kim Seok-go (Ryoo Seung-beom) who seems to have a crush in the form of Hwa-sun (Lee Yo-won) who lives next door with her young niece. He lives a timid life, being unable to express himself to Hwa-sun and instead settles for buying his lunch, every day, from the shop where she works as one of his few personable interactions in a day. When Hwa-sun’s ex-husband shows up unexpectedly, a violent encounter ensues and he ends up dead by the hand of Hwa-sun. Deciding to step in and help, Seok-go puts his mathematical skills to use and sets of an alibi for Hwa-sun. When the body is discovered, his planning goes into effect. His method is flawless and she is able to successfully provide an alibi and pass a lie detector test successfully. All seems clear except for Detective Min-beom (Jo Jin-woong) a former classmate for Seok-go who is assigned to the case and despite all the conflicting evidence, is certain that Hwa-sun is responsible for the murder. As Min-beom doggedly pursues the truth, can Seok-go and Hwa-sun stay just ahead of him when their lives are on the line?
The film offers a unique take on the mystery genre, instead of following the detective, uncovering the clues to whodunit, we instead follow those who cover up a murder and for the most part, they are our protagonists. It’s a great move that delivers us some incredibly good moments of dialogue and some unique tension for the film, kind of like knowing a secret and waiting to see if you are or are not going to be found out. The story is quite brilliant and it is definitely one of the few films I’ve seen this year that actually kept me guessing. It is a well thought out mechanism that plays with conventions of the genre and I was glued to the screen the whole time.
Ryoo Seung-beom continues to astound me with his range as an actor, having first seen him in mostly comedies as the goofy character, he has really come into his own as an actor and his nebbish Seok-go is very much a strange underdog. Calculating but endearing, he truly gives a great performance as Seok-go. Using quite a bit of physical acting and really nuanced but intense acting, he is primed to really break out as one of South Korea’s top leading men. Lee Yo-won is good as Hwa-sun, playing a woman who has put her fate in the hands of a virtual stranger but is desperate enough to follow orders. She’s harried and continually nervous but it is very realistic. These two, despite having somewhat limited screen time together, have good chemistry when these scenes occur and the film could have easily been a romantic drama, along the vein of Christmas in August with a different plot. It’s almost sweet when looking at this unconventional love story but it is constantly at odds with the film’s true subject matter. Jo Jin-woong is solid in his role, but he is clearly playing catch up to Ryoo and Lee. He does have some very good scenes when he is with either of them, but it is really just the look on the procedural side.
The film is shot very well, with the darkness of the frequent night scenes and the very good use of shadows. Set design is great, especially in Seok-go’s apartment. It is detailed and absolutely immersive. Music is actually a bit underplayed, but it does its job and thankfully keeps the typical melodramatic swells of Korean soundtracks to a minimum. Overall the film is a great look into the slightly seedier side of Seoul, a city that is without a doubt, one of the great cities in the world. In the end, I really enjoyed the film. It is gripping, intense, and pretty memorable. Offering some grade A performances this is an extremely well-acted and composed film, and it is quite the mystery thriller. Though the film does drag a bit towards the end, the film had me riveted and engaged from the get go. Definitely worth your time is you are a mystery lover or a fan of crime cinema, I am completely sold on this film.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Sherlock Holmes, Zodiac, Rashomon