The Fives (Deuo pai-i-beu) Review

   The Fives (or Deuo Pai-i-beu) is a Korean crime movie which left this writer with an even greater appreciation of the British NHS and of our police force than I had ever previously thought possible.

   The revenge thriller, another example of the sub-genre stemming  from the country, centres around Ko Eun-ah  (Kim Seon-ah) a woman who is the sole survivor of a massacre in her home.

   The perpetrator, "180cm tall.... soft features that girls like", wouldn't look out of place in a particularly hunky K-Pop band. We soon learn that his murders take place on something of a regular basis; quite literally, the brooding antagonist is a lady killer.

   Yet, for reasons which are never fully explained, the local police don't seem too bothered about uncovering his identity - media storms must blow over relatively easily in Seoul as the detectives are too tied up with making takeaway orders to track down a brutal criminal.

   With the law of the land apathetic to her plight, Eun-ah takes the decision to gain her own revenge. That her assault has left her wheelchair bound, and with the crazy-lank hair style favoured by mentally traumatised vengeance seekers (see also Oh Dae-su in Park Chan-wok's Old Boy), matters not; Eun-ah has a cunning plan to hunt down and kill the man who has taken away everything from her. Alas, she cannot do this alone.

    As Eun-ah dreams of revenge, she plots to put together a crack team of souls as anguished as she; this is not so much the Fantastic Five - or even the Hateful Eight or Dirty Dozen - but much rather the Desperate Five. Despairing over long waits for medical aid, unable to queue jump like the rich and powerful in a world of privatised healthcare, the group Eun-ah have put together all desire the only thing she can truly offer to them: her body. (This is not meant in a sexual manner but in the more graphic, literal way - her organs are to be spread amongst those who need them once they have offered assistance in vengeance).

   On paper, The Fives does very little to separate itself from an already over-crowded market of "B"-movie style Korean thrillers and often, in plotting, finds itself taking asinine detours with overblown twists and turns; Jung Yeon-sik's debut film often plumps for the over-sensational rather than the sensible. This does not mean, however, that there is nothing of value to be found in the often by-the-numbers thriller.

    Kim Seon-ah's return to the big screen (after a number of years starring on television) is a welcome one - her nuanced turn, bitter and hate-filled, is captivating and provides an engaging lead performance. Like Kim Ha-neul in Blind, another Korean thriller about a mass murderer, Seon-ah is also able to make the most out of portraying a character suffering a disability in a rounded, human manner.

   Whereas Blind saw our hero struggle through with impaired vision, The Fives sees Kim Seon-ah's character seek revenge whilst consigned to a wheelchair - a refreshing take on the classic horror tradition of disabilities or disfigurements belonging exclusively to villains. Here, the murderer has sculpted abs and a face which wouldn't look out of place in 2AM - we're asked to give our sympathies not to an aspirational pretty boy but those on the bottom wrungs of society.

   A schlocky thriller it may be but, ultimately, The Fives asks questions of a healthcare system which can lead to the most grotesque of scenarios in a culture obsessed with looks and status.  

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