This is a thriller which the “thrill” lies mainly in the dialogue. There is little of the usual action scenes you’d expect in a thriller themed movie — no fast car chases, no adrenalin pumping fist fights. The main scare comes in the form of dialogues — between Young-hwa (the newsanchor) and the mysterious terrorist. Granted, there are SOME bombing scenes, but the visual effect on the audience is somewhat distancing. And I think the producer/ director meant it that way, since the bulk of the show is filmed like a TV news report (it’s hard to be really emo when watching a news report). And I really must applaud Ha Jung-woo for fleshing out the protagonist Young-hwa with such finesse.
- Ha Jung-woo as Yoon Young-hwa. Previously a top news anchor for the popular 9pm news, but now demoted to hosting a radio talk show on current affairs. His career nose dive is also followed closely by his divorce with his reporter wife. He was demoted and banished from TV because he used to take bribes and skewed his news reporting to favour those who “paid” him. One day while taking calls on his talkshow, he picks up a call from Park Jeong-min — the terrorist of the show. Thinking that he could use this scoop to his advantage to be reinstated to his previous post, he unwisely chose not to call the police. However, things quickly spiral out of his control and the broadcasting station decides to make him the scapegoat for the mess. He eventually committed suicide in the end.
- Lee Geung-young as Cha Dae-eun. Young-hwa’s previous boss, also the PD of the news team. When faced initially with the opportunity of obtaining astounding viewership ratings due to Young-hwa’s deal with the terrorist, he was all smiley and supportive of Young-hwa’s drift of interview questions, and allowed Young-hwa to make some really critical errors in the beginning. However, as soon as government officials start to condemn the TV station for playing into the terrorist’s hands, he is quick to back off from the whole project. Basically, he left Young-hwa to deal with the sh*t he helped created.
- Lee David as Park Jeong-min (or rather his son Park Soon-woo). The terrorist, whom we get to hear for 99% of the show and only see him in the last 15 mins. Supposedly a 50-year old ahjusshi, who was a construction worker, and involved in the construction (and later, the late night repairs) of Mapo Bridge for the World Conference. He was one of the 3 construction workers who died, due to lack of safety measures, while repairing the bridge in the dark. His son was upset that the government didn’t acknowledge the death of the 3 workers (incl his dad), and decided to take things into his own hands. He pre-planted several bombs at Mapo Bridge and other strategic buildings, and snucked in to the TV station pretending to be a crew member helping with the in-ear mic. He claimed that Young-hwa’s mic is rigged with a bomb (untrue…which is revealed at the end), but he did rigged a bomb in the mic of the Police Commissioner, who came in the President’s place to stall for time with the terrorist. The Commissioner got his head blown off after he agitated Soon-woo during the phone interview.
We open to see scruffy Young-hwa, the demoted ex-news anchor, hosting yet another boring (to him) talkshow requesting callers to give their views on rising personal income taxes. The first caller gives his name as Park Jeong-min, and starts complaining about the rising utilities costs (totally off tangent to the topic). Thus, Young-hwa cuts him off midway and switches to other callers. However, Mr Park is pretty adamant. The radio crew are unable to terminate his call (he hacked the line??). Young-hwa has no choice but to pick up the phone, planning to give Mr Park a piece of his mind, when Mr Park threatens to bomb Mapo Bridge. Young-hwa scoffs in disbelief, and tells him to go ahead. (i don’t blame him, cos there are really weirdos out there calling in with hoaxes) A few minutes later, Mapo Bridge blows up, leaving a stranded piece still picariously standing on a pillar in the Hangang River. And oh, there are people stranded there, by the way.
After the initial shock, Young-hwa begins to see this event as THE opportunity to get himself back into the TV newsroom. He makes a deal with his ex-PD (Dae-un) that in return for appearing again as a news anchor, he will secure an exclusive one-to-one line to the terrorist on air. He gets his wish, and we see scruffy Young-hwa transform into spiffy Young-hwa, as he gives himself a 30sec makeover to appear camera ready (juz goes to show how much he values packaging instead of substance).
The terrorist agrees to only talk to Young-hwa, but after receiving close to 2 mil Korean won as “payment”. He introduces himself as 50-year old Park Jeong-min, and explains that he was one of the crew constructing Mapo Bridge 30 years ago and more recently, repaired the Bridge in preparation for Seoul’s hosting of the World Conference. He bombed Mapo Bridge because he feels indignant that the Korean Govt belittles the effort of common and lowly citizens (like him) in their contribution to nation building. His 3 colleagues died while repairing the Bridge in the dark and their family never received any compensation or apology from the Govt. The payment which he asked for from the broadcasting station is the total damages and insurance claims which the 3 workers could have received. In addition, he also wants the President to publicly acknowledge the incident and apologise to the families of the deceased.
Of course, getting the President (who has gone into hiding from the terrorist attacks, btw…tsktsk) to apologise publicly is kinda next to impossible in Korean society (?). Young-hwa, however, ignores Dae-un’s prompting to try to talk the terrorist out of this idea — partly also because the terrorist claims he has planted a bomb in the wired mic in Young-hwa’s left ear. To prove to Young-hwa that he can be really resourceful in bomb planting, he sets off a small bomb in the face of a news caster in one of the nearby newsroom, prompting instant panic from the news crew (and Young-hwa’s immediate compliancy). The police negotiating team arrives on scene by this time, and tries to wrestle control over the situation. The team leader (a female police officer), instructs Young-hwa to sway the terrorist to surrender by showing live footage of the hostages trapped on the piece of Mapo Bridge. The TV footage swings over to capture a car teethering on the edge of the broken bridge and the driver (a father) managing to pass his two kids to the other stranded hostages before plunging to his death (with his car) into Hangang.
The terrorist is a little shocked by the footage, but he is still insistent in demanding the President to apologise. And he gives Young-hwa 10 mins to bring the President to the newsroom. The Police Commissioner came instead of the President. He basically threatens Jeong-min that the police has managed to trace him and his son’s identities and will capture them for punishment, which makes Jeong-min extremely agitated. Young-hwa tries to warn the Police Commissioner about the planted mic bomb… but too late.
The news crew and PD Dae-un are really in jitters after seeing the Police Commissioner’s head blow off in front of them. By now, the unravelling starts. PD Dae-un and his bosses start to push Young-hwa to stop Jeong-min. Their pretty logical plan (to me) is that the terrorist will not harm Young-hwa because he is his last hostage. Young-hwa isn’t too pleased with the turn of events. And to cap that, he realises his ex-wife is on that piece of stranded bridge, and she is giving live footage of the survivors trapped there. She pleads with the terrorist to allow the emergency helicoptors to airlift the women and children out of the danger zone first. A plea which the terrorist grants. But because the bridge is so badly damaged, it is collapses (with the survivors and Young-hwa’s ex wife) into the Hangang River just seconds before the helicopter rescue. Although badly rattled, Young-hwa pulls himself together to deal with the terrorist.
By now, Dae-un has attain the high viewership ratings he wants and plots to disassociate himself and the broadcasting station from Young-hwa and the terrorist. He sells the info about Young-hwa’s dismissal from the newsroom because of fraud and bribery to the other broadcasting stations, effectively casting doubts on Young-hwa’s credibility and insinuating that Young-hwa is working with Jeong-min in return for for his old job as a news anchor. Finally, Dae-un leaves in the thick of things and tells Young-hwa to close the case as he sees fit. (omg, world’s worst backstabbing boss)
His dreams of returning as a popular news anchor gone, Young-hwa has no choice but to turn to surviving the mess he has created. He tries to locate the whereabouts of Jeong-min, deducing quite cleverly that in order to have omnisient view of Mapo Bridge and the TV station, he has to be nearby. Young-hwa predicts he is possibly at the construction site next door. The police swoops in to capture the terrorist, but they are foiled (again) when the terrorist blows up the partly constructed building…which topples and leans heavily on the broadcasting building.
The news crew flees, leaving Young-hwa (who still thinks he can’t move cos of the bomb-in-his-ear). He receives 2 calls following the near collapse of the broadcasting building. One from the owner of the broadcasting station, who says he has reported Young-hwa as being an accomplice to the terrorist (see, the station is only an “innocent bystander” sucked into Young-hwa’s evil plot). The second call is from the terrorist, who says he will come to meet Young-hwa to end things and oh, by the way, the bomb-in-your-ear is a fluke. Furious, and wanting to clear his name, Young-hwa sets up the camera to film live.
The terrorist does appear, a boy too young to be the 50-year old Mr Park. Young-hwa realises from the Police Commissioner’s case file that he is dealing with Jeong-min’s son (Soon-woo). A scuffle ensues and Soon-woo is flung out of the window (but manages to hang on to a coil of camera wires). Young-hwa tries to pull him up, while asking Soon-woo why he is doing this to him. Soon-woo replies that his dad is a fan of Young-hwa, and Jeong-min always claimed that Young-hwa is a man of credibility (juz cos he heads the 9pm popular news time slot). Soon-woo knows of Young-hwa’s demotion due to bribery and blames him for being part of the corrupted system that preys on ignorant people like his dad.
Young-hwa finally realises what a pathetic reporter he is, and apologises — to Soon-woo, and possibly to many others whom he has slandered or ignored due to his skewed reporting. Unfortunately, Soon-woo loses his grip on the cables and Young-hwa’s hand and falls to his death. By then the police arrives to capture Young-hwa (the alleged terrorist’s accomplice). Instead of facing a slew of questionings which he may not be able to explain, he picks up the detonator left on the floor during the scuffle and commits suicide.
There are usually two ways which a story on journalism can veer. We either have the journalist (investigative) hero, who manages to solve the crime(s) and saves the day in place of inept policemen. Or, like in this movie, the anti-hero…a journalist who doesn’t do his job like he should and reports news which are not factual and preys on sensationalism. It is hard to LIKE Young-hwa as a character. From the beginning, we can see he is those “journalists” who believes that journalism equates having rock star popularity. He is quick to pounce on the chance to use Jeong-min as leverage to transform from his ugly duckling self back to his glamourous swan image.
And I repeat, I really do like the way Ha Jung-woo portrays Young-hwa. From the greedy gleam in his eyes when he sees his chance for reinstatement, to the arrogance when he KNOWS he has his PD and bosses licking from his hands, to the crushing realisation that nothing is working the way he wants it (and the commendable effort he puts in to still remain professional and calm)…and finally…the acknowledgement that he has been a total failure and a poor excuse for a journalist. It’d be difficult to get an inexperienced actor to play Young-hwa, since 90% of the whole 2h, we are watching HIM and HIM ONLY.
And thanks to Ha Jung-woo and his superb acting skills, the audience can forgive the movie’s slipshod plot. Halfway through the show, you’d be wondering why the terrorist is so all-powerful…and how in the world did he manage to plant that many bombs in the first place?? There is also the annoyingly shaky Blair-witch-project camera works (which nearly gave me a headache), and looks as though someone is using his mobile phone cam and following Young-hwa around filming. It’s THAT bad.