By Pierce Conran
Step away from the city and it isn't long before you fall in with
bad company or into a mystery in Korean cinema, with remote islands and
mountains being among the favored haunts of the country's more macabre
filmmakers. Taking its cue from a Brothers Grimm fairly tale (itself a take on
an old German legend), Kim Gwang-tae's debut The Piper hums a
familiar tune, yet this fable of mistrust and deceit remains engrossing and
entertaining thanks to a few wicked twists.
Originally a legend called 'The Pied Piper of Haemlin' from the
Middle Ages that later became well known as a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the
original story features a wealthy village that experiences a rat infestation.
The 'pied piper' comes to town and offers to rid them of their plague for a
price, but after playing his song, guiding the rodents away from the settlement
and sealing them inside a mountain, the villagers refuse to pay him and suffer
the consequences when he plays his flute again to steal away their children.
Kim's version takes place in the aftermath of the Korean War and
sees the piper traveling through the mountains with his son. They happen upon a
path that has magically opened up, indicated to us by way of a dolly zoom, and
soon discover a mysterious village that looks upon these wanderers with
suspicious eyes. They stick around for long enough to be accepted by the
villagers but also to sense that something isn't quite right. Only then does
the well-known rat element of the story come into play.
Beefing up the brief tale to a 100-minute film leads to a number of
twists being added to the plot, and these exhibit a Korean flair for stylish
blood-letting, not to mention a penchant for drama, which heightens both the
emotional resonance and macabre tone of what is already a very twisted tale to
begin with. By focusing so much on the 'outsiders come to town' aspect of its
story and giving us plenty of time with about a half-dozen primary characters, The
Piper doesn't get going particularly quickly but the setting is an
alluring one, basking in the summer sunlight and shot with an eye for clarity
and detail while Kim drops enough foreboding omens along the path to keep the
pace from slackening too much.
Recalling the genial turns of contemporary Hwang Jung-min (Ode
to My Father), as well as his own role as a simpleton in the smash hit Miracle
in Cell No. 7 (2013), Ryoo Seung-ryong brings a broad smile and
benevolent air to the 'pied piper', proving once again his value as a leading
man with am amiable character who, caught between a terrible war and the
conclusion of a tale that we know won't end well, hints at a darker side.
Alongside Ryoo, stoic character actor Lee Sung-min (Broken)
affords a commanding severity to his village leader while Han Gong-ju's
(2013) breakout star Chun Woo-hee takes her wide-eyed village girl, a
relatively simple character, and plays her straight before injecting her with
potent pathos during some standout scenes later in the story. Meanwhile,
following his promising starring role in 2013's Rough Play, K-pop
star Lee Joon (of boyband MBLAQ) is mostly consigned to the background with his
angsty village leader's son whose dark edge is left unexplored.
As sound and convincing as the build to the meat of the story is, The
Piper is at its best in the moments that it slowly strips its
characters of their humanity and foists them on to somber paths. Ultimately,
the iniquity of the many actuates the gruesome retribution of the few in a
final act that comes to life through striking images and which boasts a
powerful and emotional climax. With a promising first feature that stands apart
from its Korean peers, director Kim has marked himself as a talent to watch.
Read more: http://twitchfilm.com/2015/07/review-the-piper-a-satisfyingly-grimm-fairy-tale.html#ixzz3hsoAvwVN