Korean Films in Review: Intruders (Jo nan-ja-deul)

After the success of his first feature film, Daytime Drinking, the promising director Noh Young-seok brings us Intruders.

Intruders shares many of the same themes as Daytime Drinking. Writer and director Noh Young-seok is fascinated in human encounters, he primarily loves to put his main lead in situations that go well beyond their comfort zone. Yet with Intruders it seems Noh has even pushed himself out of his comfort zone. Despite being a black comedy, Intruders is more sinister in tone and explores much darker themes than its predecessor.

We follow the story of Sang-jin (Jun Suk-ho), a writer who travels to a remote Bed and Breakfast, owned by his producer’s parents, with the aim of finishing his script without any distractions. During the opening sequence we witness our introvert lead waiting at a train station where he places his cup of coffee on a seat to take a photograph at which point an old man then continues to spit in his coffee. Without opening his mouth our lead simply gets another cup of coffee. This scene sums up the main character completely – he’s a pushover. It also sums up the rest of the films premise; as the themes of invasion and control (or rather lack of control) continues to develop.

As the film progresses we encounter more uncomfortable situations and encounters for our anti-hero. His first encounter is with an intrusive and overly friendly local called Hak-Soo (Oh Tae-kyung) who, much like the scarecrow for Dorothy, guides Sangjkin to his snowy destination. The two characters share a bus ride that gives the director the means to show off his comedic talents through an impressive script that gives us a realistic peek into each characters way of life. Sang-jin then meets a bunch of pushy and annoying adolescents on a ski trip who demand a room from him at a discounted rate. He also stumbles upon two stereotypical hunters who exude danger.

Despite having moments of discomfort around most of the strangers Sang-jin meets, there is a sufficient lack of tension conveyed in the first half of the film, made more evident through the film’s slow paced editing cuts. Yet Sang-jin’s annoyance turns to fear as events take a turn for the worst, turning Intruders into a thriller above all else. As Sang-jin continues to lose control over the snowballing of events, the film continues to twist into unpredictable chaos with an ending that shows no one in the film had any chance at control.

The ending of the Intruders is dragged out a good deal; effectively causing a slow deflation of the long awaited build up. Perhaps if the director had inserted some more humour into the last half of the film the ending would have been less disappointing. There is also a lack of style to the film, particularly the scenes filmed during daytime. However the film is, overall, a well crafted little thriller that boasts potential from Noh Young-seok and is well worth a watch.

Intruders is playing as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. You can find all the information about the Korean films being shown here. Make sure you also check out our review of Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer.

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Erin McDermott