Directed by: Kim Sung-soo || Produced by: Hidemi Satani, Lee Geun-wook, Yang Gwang-deok, Cha Won-cheon
Screenplay by: Kim Sung-Soo || Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kim Hyo-jin
Music by: Kenji Kawai || Cinematography: Choi Sang-muk || Edited by: Park Gyeong-suk || Country: Japan, South Korea || Language: Japanese, Korean
Running Time: 120 minutes
I’ve written before on the general importance of directorial execution over screenwriting in film production, how even with a mediocre to bad script, the right director can, through Herculean artistic effort and the right adjustments on the fly (e.g. discarding a scene here, tightening the pace on a couple sequences there, casting the right actor to transform a previously mundane role, stylized storytelling where the screenwriter specified only content, etc.), deliver a competent (e.g. Blade , Star Trek ) final project. On the other hand, the best director isn’t always available to salvage a given screenplay; a proper, well written outline is often the simplest, most affordable way to ensure a film’s artistic success when the likes of Martin Scorsese, John Woo, or Kathryn Bigelow aren’t interested in providing their unique auteur spin to a project.
Speaking of not having the right filmmaker for the job, one of the most incoherent, baffling movies I’ve ever watched in any language is the 2013 film, Genome Hazard (Korean = Mumyeongin or “Nameless”); adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name by Tsukasaki Shiro and directed by Kim Sung-soo, this Japanese-Korean coproduction remains one of the more unique, dare I say mysterious viewing experiences of my cinephile life. Both the context in which I first watched it and the questionable execution of the film itself are notable to me: I saw Genome Hazard almost a decade ago on a flight from Indianapolis to San José to pass the time, and as such was locked into the filmic story like few other movies I’ve watched before or since. Its cause-and-effect narrative progression works to a certain degree, but the diegetic minutia of the various science-fiction plot devices pertaining to memory loss, identity, and genetic engineering are so batshit insane (not necessarily a bad thing) and nonsensical (definitely a bad thing) as to make the movie’s narrative near impossible to understand. Throw in poor editing and a longwinded runtime for this film’s modest scale (120 minutes), and Genome Hazard’s cinematic legibility grows truly opaque.
The premise for Genome Hazard reads like a standard espionage mystery, where lead Hidetoshi Nishijima (the guy from Drive My Car ) returns home from work one day to find his wife murdered, but then receives a live phone call from her moments later before a gang of mysterious thugs claiming to be police burst through his door to apprehend him. He soon escapes, of course, but becomes even more overwhelmed as he starts to recall memories that appear to be from another person’s life. From then on, the movie is a diegetic maze filled with repetitive chase sequences, a forced romantic subplot with Korean costar Kim Hyo-jin, and way too much exposition.
The story itself tries to be too many things at once like many Indian masala films before it, and in the end fails at most of the genres it’s trying to reference. The science-fiction elements that explore how Nishijima’s original identity may or may not be a fabrication or evidence of genetic engineering gone awry show promise during the first act, but lose steam the longer the film runs and the more this angle of the story gets crowded by other, tonally conflicted subplots. In terms of suspense, Genome Hazard tracks like its sci-fi overtones and loses tension the more crowded with incoherent flashbacks and one-note chase sequences the story becomes. The quasi-love triangle between Nishijima, Kim, and the former’s various alleged wives fares the worst of all these story elements, however, thanks to Nishijima’s overacting and the cast’s lack of chemistry.
With regards to direction, Kim Sung-soo poorly executes what had to be an unfocused, incoherent script to begin with, though in this particular case, it’s difficult to parse where the failures of the screenplay end and the inconsistency of the direction begins. Genome Hazard sports a weird, almost blue-green tint for some reason, and every now and then the frame flashes a transient ticking clock that’s never explained and feels like a contrived, manufactured crutch to maintain narrative tension when the film runs out of gas. Combine those features with the aforementioned poor acting direction, questionable editing, and overindulgent runtime, and it seems clear this movie got away from its director.
For a variety of reasons, this weird enigma of a movie never fully left my memory despite the accidental circumstances in which I saw it, perhaps due to its lackluster overall quality as one of the first non-Hollywood, non-English language productions I ever saw that was outright bad. Genome Hazard’s primary weaknesses are all related to its lack of focus, which I suspect is a function of problematic screenwriting and direction given the film’s limited budget and Kim’s writer-director status (i.e. he wasn’t a hired gun for a major studio crowdpleaser). If I had to muster compliments for Genome Hazard, I’d applaud its true auteur vision and bizarre subject-matter, but at the end of the day, filmmaking is about execution; bad adapted screenplay or not, the story portrayed on-screen is an unintelligible mess.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Films can survive bad screenplays through creative direction as in Blade, but they cannot survive both weak writing and direction as in Blade Trinity (2003). If Genome Hazard’s original framework on paper was anywhere as confused as its translation to screen, then the script needed several additional rewrites to streamline its narrative and hone its genre focus. The film tries to be a mishmash of various genres and fails at all of them by the end credits.
—> NOT RECOMMENDED; not on your life, pal.
? Do airlines get earlier access to recent theatrical titles than streaming platforms?
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