Friday, February 16, 2018

Golden Slumber: Korea Remakes Nakamura

The Beatles recorded “Golden Slumbers” without John Lennon, because he was in the hospital while they recorded that part of the Abbey Road suite-like progression. That doesn’t matter to Kim Gun-woo. To him, it will always represent his friendship with his old band-mates. Unfortunately, his nostalgia makes him easy pickings when one of his former pals helps frame him for the assassination of the leading presidential candidate. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is a loose remake of Yoshihiro Nakamura’s hit from 2010. Given the increasing suspicion and cynicism regarding governmental institutions across South Korea, this paranoid political thriller makes the cross-over quite easily. It will be death by Beatles cover in Noh Dong-seok’s Golden Slumber, which opens today in Los Angeles and next Friday in select cities.

The aw-shucks Kim is Korea’s favorite deliveryman after he saved K-Pop idol Su-ah from an attacker. However, he still has time for his friends, so he readily agrees to meet Moo-yeol when he suddenly reappears. The idea is to frame-up Kim for a conspiracy that is never really explained, but Moo-yeol just can’t do it, so he drives off with the second car bomb instead.

Kim is still framed up good and solid, so he has no choice but to run like mad. Although confused and distrustful, Kim will look up the former black ops colleague Moo-yeol referred him to, because what choice does he really have? However, “Mr. Min” clearly does not have his best interests at heart—at least not initially. Meanwhile, Kim’s surviving band-mates, including Jeon Sun-young, the great love of his life, debate his guilt or innocence and how far they should be willing to go to help him.

With his Slumber, Noh essentially returns the favor to Japan for remaking Confession of Murder as the in some ways superior Memoirs of a Murderer. The new Korean version is definitely tighter, stripping away some of problematic subplots, while adding some identifiably Korean particulars. As a result, it is probably even more effective as a “Wrong Man” thriller. In fact, even those who know Nakamura’s original film will find the third act surprisingly devious.

Gang Dong-won agilely walks a tightrope as Kim, portraying him as painfully na├»ve, but still socially functional—and to some extent, even nobly idealistic. Kim Eui-sung (the jerky businessman in Train to Busan) is all kinds of hardnosed as Mr. Min. Frankly, Han Hyo-joo brings over-achieving depth to the true-believing, equally sentimental Sun-young. Regrettably, there isn’t a colorful villain to root against, but Noh largely compensates with breakneck pacing.

When Nakamura’s Slumber played in New York, we found its depiction of media compliance and obedience somewhat dubious, but seven-plus years later, it now feels like Noh lets the media off easy. Does anyone doubt the major news outlets would now predetermine what the truth of a story might be and “spike” any reports that contradicted it? What inspired incredulity now seems self-evidently believable, admittedly thanks to some wise reshaping of the narrative, courtesy of screenwriters Cho Ui-seok and Lee Hae-joon. Plus, as a bonus, there are a few pleasant covers of the nearly titular Beatles tune. Enthusiastically recommended, Golden Slumber opens today (2/16) at the Los Angeles and Buena Park CGV Cinemas and next Friday (2/23) in New York.

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