Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Saturday, April 29, time 5.00 PM

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Master

As Master opens, CEO Jin Hyun-pil (Lee Byung-hun, Inside Men) is already on top of the world. We see him in a cavernous arena filled with ecstatic, adoring fans who have invested in his company, One Network. Jin obviously knows how to work a crowd; he speaks with modesty at first, then vulnerability. His eyes grow moist speaking of all that he’s gone through in his rise to fame, but then his voice picks up volume and begins to boom with a reassuring strength. The crowd simply adores him, and it’s true that he has made them a lot of money. He promises them even more in the future. They ought to know better.
A few people in the crowd stand out for their lack of enthusiasm. These include Kim Jae-myung (Gang Dong-won, Vanishing Time), an investigator in the financial crimes division, and his partner Gemma (Uhm Ji-won, Hope). Jae-myung knows that One Network’s success has been built on a fraudulent pyramid scheme, and that Jin has dark intentions for the money in his possession. But none of the information Jae-myung has will stand up in court. He and Gemma need a way into the company, and across the arena, they see a potential target in Park Jang-gun (Kim Woo-bin, Twenty).

Park is a young hacker, brilliant and somewhat arrogant, who plays a key role in One Network. He’s not the type to rat out his boss or betray his colleagues, but if you apply enough pressure on a person, he sometimes acts contrary to his nature. Jae-myung and Gemma are experienced in doling out pressure, and once they get him into the police station, they maneuver him into a legal and logistical corner. Park realizes he’s trapped, and he angrily agrees (at least to their face) to help them.
It’s this triangle that forms the skeleton of Master, an ambitious project by director Cho Ui-seok in the wake of his inventive 2013 thriller Cold Eyes. There are several ways in which this film ranks as ambitious. The first is the casting: Lee Byung-hun, Gang Dong-won and Kim Woo-bin are all at the very top of the industry these days. Getting three major stars of this caliber together in the same film, together with a collection of strong supporting actors, is the sort of thing that only happens once every couple years. The casting alone immediately made this film the highest profile release of the peak winter season.

It’s also ambitious on a purely narrative level, in that each half of the film more or less contains its own three act structure. At the halfway point of Master’s 143 minute running time, as its main characters all scatter in different directions, the plot basically starts over again from scratch. Many critics have questioned this approach and the inevitable lag time that ensues, but there’s no denying the filmmakers’ ambitions to go epic.
Ultimately, the film branches out far beyond Korea’s borders, and wraps up with a complex and action-packed finale in Manila. This sequence represents one of the film’s strongest segments, and is a rare example of a Korean production attempting a big action set piece that sprawls out across a foreign city.
Master racked up a solid 7.2 million admissions during its theatrical release, with a tepid reception from critics but decent online scores from regular viewers. As it turned out, this film about corruption and injustice also happened to be screening just as Korea was engulfed in an unprecedented scandal which ended in a presidential impeachment. In that sense Master was clearly a film of its time, though in many ways the real life scandal out-did the one portrayed onscreen.
Darcy Paquet
Film director: 
Cho Ui-seok
Year: 
2016
Running time: 
143

Photogallery

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