by John Quigley
Desire to Kill is the debut offering from South Korean directors Kim Sang-Hwa and Jo Won Hee, who direct this darkly comic tail with both flare and heart.
The film begins in 1984 where Min-Ho wakes up in a hospital, after what we are told is the latest of his many suicide attempts. He has plenty to live for, but constantly ignores the pleas of his doctors and his rather buxom and attractive nurse, Ha. Soon, Min-Ho finds himself sharing the ward with the paralysed amnesiac Sang Eob. For some reason, the arrival of Sang Eob sparks confusing and painful memories in Min-Ho, and as Sang Eob starts to recover, the two men discover that one must kill the other to protect themselves, turning their ward into a battleground.
What can I say about this film? I absolutely loved it. It was so refreshing to see a well-paced, well-thought out comedy thriller where I genuinely couldn’t predict what was going to happen next and forced me to sit on the edge of my seat all the time. I really enjoyed the tensions between the staff and the patients, who have been using experimental drugs on the patients and monitoring the effects. I really enjoyed the performance of Nurse Ha (Seo Hyo Rim), who brought a homely feel to the film, rescuing from it becoming too mixed up in the medical paranoia and conspiracy theories that could have ruined the film.
Though it sounds like a very depressing film, the directors use their script well enough to make the comedy and drama balance out very well, without making either one too prevalent. The two leads are both very adept at humour as well as the more dramatic elements, finding plenty of dark humour within the relationship between the two men.
Kim and Jo are not afraid to make their protagonists unlikeable, which I thought took a lot of guts. Neither of the leads is morally good or bad, both inhabiting a grey area, where the audience is left to decide for themselves who is right or wrong, after only being given the smallest details of information through the use of flashbacks and dialogue.
Visually, the film is reminiscent of early Tim Burton films, with its use of gothic and grand sets, mixed with the dark humour. However, its dramatic turns and reliance on thriller elements reminds me more of Hitchcock or Cronenberg, with the hospital scenes in particular harking back to James Stewart in Rear Window.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable film, let down slightly by a contrived ending, although it’s certainly better than anything Hollywood has produced in the past ten years.