The world is not ideal and neither are humans. The social and psychological behaviour of an individual, when coupled with a failure to control the cognition under extreme disappointment, anger or frustration, manifests itself in violence. Such feelings often translate into crimes that reveal the disorderly crack in human consciousness. The distrust of the legal system, prevailing among victims, leads to their not reporting the violence they suffer. The psychological distress at the root of this fear and the constant feeling of hopelessness results, a lot of times, to the victim hiding their experience of the crime. Specialists in the field refer to such an act of unreported victimization as “Dark Figure of Crime.”
The movie with the same title (암수살인, Amsusalin) is based on a real-life story. Film-maker Kim Tae-Gyun learns about the incident while watching a TV documentary, where a murderer confessed, in 2010, to the unreported crimes. The case intrigued him so much because it reminded him of Oedipus standing in front of the Sphinx. His piqued interest compelled him to study it further and immediately he started writing the screenplay. It took over six years to make the film.
The exhaustive amount of research and hard work that went into writing the screenplay is evident from the nuanced detailing in the character development and the emotional deftness of the narration. ‘Kim Yoon-Seok’ plays the Narcotics officer named Hyong-min. His mundane life is turned into a visceral chase game to resolve the conundrum that has unexpectedly knocked at his door.
Ju Ji-hoon plays the cold blood serial killer Tae-oh who casually confesses to the unreported past crime. He is cynical and calm, even when explaining the incongruous crime, his posture and body language exhibiting no guilt. He is a trickster who confuses everyone, including us, with the details of the skin-crawling, heinous crimes.
Ju Ji-hoon displays complete control over the character, effortlessly switching from a guiltless confessor, to an innocent man who claims to be coaxed by law enforcers to take the responsibility. His performance reminded me of Edward Norton’s ‘Aaron Stampler’ in Primal Fear.
Hyong-min’s boss repeatedly asks him not to buy Tae-oh’s ‘stories’ and instead work on the open cases. But his confidence in Tae-oh narrative strengthens with every lie the latter throws their way, even if it means he can’t be trusted.
Hyong-min relentless effort in search of the body of victims, in spite of being publicly humiliated twice, is revealing, offering a glimpse into his character. Even after being fooled and humiliated during the recreation of the crime, he persistently works on the case and tries to untangle the convoluted mess of truth and lies. He cares only about the truth, lurking in the darkest corners, hopelessly expecting the light. He looks with sympathetic eyes towards the families of the victim who don’t know whether the victim is alive or dead.
In one of the most crushing moments of the film, a granny of a missing young girl cries her heart out, as she asks Hyong-min to find out just that. He puts victims, rather than suspects, in the centre of his investigation, which creates empathy for the victims and contributes to us obsessing to get to the bottom of the truth.
Kim Yoon-Seok’s understated and committed performance layers the character. It dismantles all the “detective” stereotypes. Hwang Ki-suk muted cinematography renders a sombre feel to the already bleak drama, reminiscent of the way Kim Hyung-Koo achieved the murkiness in ‘Memories of Murder’. Yoon-Seok contrasts the city in the night, glistening with colour, against the darkness of the crime committed. The created paranoia pulls us deep into the ambiguous state of Tae-oh’s narration.
‘Dark Figure of Crime’ is a gritty, visceral crime-drama that works both as a fine character study, exploring the inimical side of human nature, and a drama about hope in the bleak and dejected world. It is everything that Kim Hyeong-jun’s murder mystery ‘No Mercy’ wanted to achieve, but fell short of, due to his overindulgence in smartness.