At the root of Guns and Talks writer/director Jin Jang's Murder, Take One (2005) is an interesting idea. An idea, never fulfilled.
The film is technically competent and, even if some characters are one-dimensional, well-preformed. That said, its not enough, and I'm about to write one of those reviews that basically touches on all the sour spots because it is that kind of film, one where most every positive has some off note attached to it.
First of all, this is a two hour film, more than enough time to leisurely set up a premise, but the setup is all rushed in the first few minutes. During the opening, we learn of the murder of a thirty-something girl in a hotel room). The investigation into her death will take place on live tv, a whole building has been assigned to house the prosecuting detectives, suspects, and the tv crew. For the next forty-five minutes (a day, more or less, in real word time), chief prosecutor Choi Yeon-gi (Seung-won Cha) interviews the chief suspect, the hotel employees who last saw the victim, and her co-workers. However, the victim is never really known at all. The most backstory we get on her is that she had an affair with her boss and that detail is only there to set up a suspect, not to make you feel you know this character in any way.
Now, the idea that makes Murder, Take One set apart from the pack of any other routine murder procedural is that this is a crime being investigated on live tv. However, during this first half of the film, we see around two glimpses of this aspect, the show itself and a producer behind the scenes. The format of the show is never really explained. We basically see a roundtable of commentators and a live audience who also ask questions and thats it. Throughout the entire film, there is exactly one scene where you see something being filmed for the audience (and even then its a sole producer with a
handheld cam. One would assume the shakycam or securitycam aesthetic would make perfect sense for this kind of film, but the presence of camera, lighting, etc, for this to be a tv show is never really present. I guess what we see as a slick movie is what the audience sees? But, that doesn't make sense.
Now, I don't mind that the film didn't aim for aesthetic realism, even if that would have made it more interesting and appropriate given the premise, but when the film further decides to stray into fantasy territory, it once again serves to sink that interesting premise. Choi Yeon-gi is our main character, but his only backstory is delivered in a flashback that is played humorously and with out of left field cinematic flair- winking at the audience like, say, Takashi Miike might. Further, when we finally see the prosecutor fighting with the meddling producer, who is bringing in an exorcist for ratings because the investigation is going nowhere and the audience is bored, they then choose to play the initially fake-looking spiritualist and the supernatural angle as real. Even in the tech realm Murder, Take One contrasts itself, in one scene having a bedraggled video tech say the securitycam clearly zoom in on a face thing is the stuff of movies, yet in another scene it plays to the cliches of someone fooling a rapid fire lie detector test (not to mention moving around the room while doing so). These are just examples of a director/writer enchanted by a throwaway, cute stylistic idea that doesn't serve his film's plotting and keeps things tonally confused.
SPOILERS, not that most audiences will care by the finale. In the end, Murder, Take One serves up a bunch of suspects with gray, tabloid motivations for killing the girl. Most are only one scene away from being ruled out after they are introduced. Then the film does the laziest thing possible, gathers all the principles in one room, fingers are pointed, and a fringe character who- you guessed it- was never a suspect and barely had any screentime gets pegged as the murderer. Then the film keeps on going and one realizes, yep, one more boring twisteroo is on the way.
The DVD: Pathfinder Entertainment.
The film is presented with a run of the mill anamorphic widescreen transfer. The production is very capable, not exactly slick or too stylized, but workmanlike. The transfer doesn't really do it any favors. Any depth or general crispness is undone by the compression which, while not exhibiting any glaring faults, dulls all the major image aspects like color and sharpness details.
Again, a simple 2.0 Korean language soundtrack, complimented by default (*boo*) English subtitles. Everything is fine, if aurally simple, in the mixing. Forgettable techno-leaning score. Clear dialogue and atmospherics. Subs are fairly well-translated but could use smoother patter and and slower timing.
Only a trailer.
There is an interresitng premise lurking around in Murder, Take One. Unfortunately that premise's most interesting ideas are unexplored and mostly lost in a sea of dull red herrings and some ho-hum storytelling. The film makers made their creative premise take a backseat to the usual cinematic routines and mystery twists, things that really don't offer any replay value. A procedural crime mystery with shades of Networkish social commentary is a unique avenue to explore. Maybe some day someone will make that film. The closest we've come is, maybe, Johnny To's Breaking News.
Pathfinder gives the film a basic DVD transfer (foreign editions feature DVD9 transfers and more extras), so this one is, at the most, worth a casual rental but I'm going with an overall recommendation to skip it. In bad reviewer speak, Murder, Take One is a show that would be quickly canceled.