Soo-ah (Kim Ha-neul, Ryung: Dead Friend, My Tutor Friend) fought her way up to the police academy from an orphanage. Tragically, while trying to discipline her adopted younger brother, she is caught in a traffic accident and is blinded. Undaunted, she continues to pursue a career in law enforcement.
While waiting for a bus during a terrible downpour, she hitches a ride with someone she thinks is a taxicab driver. It turns out that he is a serial rape-murderer targeting young women. Soo-ah survives the attack, but cannot convince the police that she holds relevant information about the killer’s identity. Her case is not helped by a run-in with another witness, a cocky youngster Gi-seop (Yoo Seung-ho, the kid in The Way Home, all grown up), who insists that the abductor’s car was not a taxicab. Meanwhile, the serial killer is aware that Soo-ah is uncomfortably close to his tail; and he is planning to do something about it.
While director Ahn Sang-hoon’s previous film Arang does not exactly inspire confidence, Choi Min-seok’s screenplay (with revisions by Ahn and Andy Yoon [the producer of To Sir with Lov /Bloody Reunion] ) is several notches above the standard Korean thriller. Blind’s chief strengths lie in what its makers successfully avoid rather than what they do. For instance, Ahn, Choi and company refuse to turn Soo-ah into a female clone of Daredevil, with preternaturally enhanced olfactory and auditory senses. She is merely a sensitive young woman doggedly pursuing her goal, certainly not immune from misinterpreting her clues or experiencing crippling self-doubt. Supporting characters are equally believable. Detective Jo is obviously designed as comic relief yet is surprisingly intelligent beneath his clownish veneer. Gi-seop remains realistically immature and never does anything fake like heroically rescuing Soo-ah from a crisis situation. Even the portrayal of the villain is spare and to the point; no torture-porn excesses in this film, although his characterization (and the annoyingly infantile-masculine view of Soo-ah’s “virgin mother” status) does hint at director Ahn’s conservative Catholic outlook.
Blind also showcases several impressively constructed set pieces that immediately grabbed the viewer’s attention at the PiFan screening I attended. One such set piece, a protracted chase in a subway station, makes exceedingly clever use out of the two-way camera function of a smartphone, the kind of ideas you expect to see in a contemporary American thriller but seldom do. Kim Ha-neul’s fans might want to know how she fares in the demanding role of a physically active blind woman. She is obviously not Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark, but neither does she preen like a princess or milk her disability for audience sympathy. Kim scores points by convincingly embodying a regular young blind woman struggling through daily life in a basically inconsiderate and discriminatory society, and not coming off as a movie star trying to “act” vulnerable.
Blind is hardly an eye-opening, neo-Hitchcockian masterpiece of modern suspense. It has more than a few problems, including the over-emphatic climax trying to get viewers cheering on their feet yet succeeds only in deflating the tension (Ahn is at his weakest in finessing actively manipulative techniques à la Spielberg). Yet the film is an undeniably efficient, crowd-pleasing concoction, superior to the usual post-’90s American horror-thriller with brain-dead, inebriated, oversexed college students being wiped out by an irate life-begins-at-ejaculation Republican Teabagger or something.