Something Unexpected From 88 Film's Asia Collection: The Gifted

This one was a real pleasant surprise for me.  I was completely unfamiliar with The Gifted before they sent for me to review, and last I'd looked, I thought 88 Film's Asia Collection was all Shaw Brothers and Inframan flicks from the 70s.  But this is a contemporary (2014) Korean movie about, well, I couldn't even tell what.  Horror?  Drama?  Or some kind of thriller, according to the back of the box.  But the label's official description really doesn't tell you much at all - and even that turns out to be inaccurate - so I was really jumping in blind.  And as an old hand who's burned through a few video store selections in my time, that's become fairly rare these days.
Well, the first thing I have to report is that this movie is a slow burn. If you appreciate a good slow burn, you're in for a treat.  But if not, back out now, because this one is super slow.  For the first solid half of this movie, I was thinking, well, this is an interesting choice for 88 but they're really gonna take a bath on this title, because it's just an earnest indie drama about how hard it is to earn a living in modern South Korea.  A young man was laid off from his last position, and because he'd never been promoted before he lost that job, no new company wants to hire him.  We see him go from interview to interview, meanwhile getting increasingly stressed out when he's back at his apartment alone.  Meanwhile, his girlfriend wants to buy a small cafe, but doesn't realize they can no longer afford it.  Her little brother has resorted to stealing cell phones, and our protagonist winds up pursuing small, miserable jobs that don't pay enough to make ends meet.  That's like the first hour of this movie.
It's all well shot, the performances are grounded and convincing and he makes good use of music.  But if I have one real complaint about this movie, it's that the characters are too broadly drawn, which makes the slow pace of the first half genuinely boring.  Eventually everything's going to pay off in a grand way, but the characters are too simplistic to sustain the first portion.  The girlfriend wants to make enough money to live a comfortable life, and is concerned about her brother.  That's like all there is to her for a very long stretch.  There's a scene where the girl tells her boyfriend to return a handbag, she hasn't taken the tags off of it; and I thought, finally, one moment where she doesn't just follow the very simple, one sentence motivation her character's had all along.  She doesn't just want money; she's rejecting money.  You know, in the really good indie dramas or comedies, they can make a meal of this kind of material because there's lots of subtle and relatable layers to the people you're empathizing with on screen.  Here, you just start to feel like they're clarifying something that really didn't need any more explanation.
So by now, I guess I've warded all of you away from this movie, but hang in there.  Like I said, the first half requires some patience, but it's still well made and the drama is painfully plausible.  And when this film finally takes its turn, it all comes together and starts to pay off in spades.  I won't spoil where it goes, but I'll say that this film definitely qualifies as a horror and makes an excellent spiritual successor to American Psycho (especially compared to the dreadful sequel it actually got).  No, it isn't satirical like AP, and it doesn't go after yuppies or any similar kind of archetype.  But it's a hard story that asks the question: why not respond sociopathically to a society that callously treats you completely mercenarily?  It's a powerful, disturbingly effective story, and you'll definitely be glad you took the ride by the end.
2018 UK 88 Films blu-ray.
88's blu of The Gifted, due to be released on the 28th, I believe marks this film's English-friendly debut on disc anywhere in the world.  This is a new(ish) film, and looks to have been shot on digital, so there's not too much at risk by way of the transfer, barring 88 doing anything foolish, which happily they don't seem to have done.  Their master is presumably a one to one copy of the filmmakers' DCP, so it looks just the way it's supposed to look, short of a 4k UHD edition.  And it does look just fine.  The picture is slightly matted to 1.85:1, and if detail is ever a little light, I assume that's down to the camera they used.  We're given the option of Korean 2.0 or 5.1 mixes, both in DTS-HD, with optional/ removable English subtitles.

There are no special features except for a 1.83:1 trailer with burnt in subs.  And the case features reversible artwork with an even darker, creepier design.
I've already shown this movie to a couple people, and they were quite impressed, too.  As much as any art can be judged objectively, I'd say The Gifted is an undeniably good movie.  But I have to admit the rewatchability's probably on the low side.  I really won't be surprised if 88 wind up taking that bath on this title.  But I hope they don't, because I'd love for them to surprise us again with more off-the-radar treats like this.

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