South Korea has been facing the increasing number of mental illnesses, caused by various factors such as suicide, divorce, addiction, as well as expeditious development of technology; for that reason, various mental institutions have increased their facilities where people – willingly, or unwillingly, and some in secret – admit themselves to get help with their predicaments. However, what happens if you are taken against your will and locked up in a psychiatric ward? Convincing the world that you are sane may not be as easy as you might think; then what?
On a bright day, while taking a stroll, Soo-A (Gang Ye-won) finds herself kidnapped and incarcerated in a mental hospital; there, she is stripped, beaten up, drugged without elucidation and questioned by the iniquitous doctor Jang Hyeong-sik (Choi Jin-ho) who, apart from terrorizing his own patients, also has an intimate relationship with one of them. In the hospital, Soo-A tries to figure out the reason why she is in there and she – with the help of a kindhearted male nurse Dong-sik (Lee Hak-joo) – chronicles everything; and what she records in her diary is demonic. Parallel to her story we also follow Na Nam-soo (Lee Sang-yoon), an ambitious TV producer whose career is on the line for falsifying information and who accidentally – a year after the abduction of Soo-A – finds the diary at his workplace. The mental clinic does not exist anymore as it was consumed by a fire, with Soo-A as the sole survivor; she is currently in prison, undergoing a seven-year sentence for the murder of her stepfather. The journalist realizes that Soo-A’s case might help him regain his career and bring high ratings to his not-so-popular TV show. He interviews the woman himself and as he investigates deeper into her case, he discovers that there is more to it than just a staged kidnapping.
Insane, written and directed by Lee Cheol-ha, is an intriguing arcanum thriller in which the filmmaker emphasizes on the emotional state of the protagonist and shows – in an interesting way – how she battles with her own mind as she attempts to determine what really happened to her. Her short-lived amnesia adds a bit of a thrill to the film and allows the audience to search for different answers to simple questions: Is she sane, is she innocent? Gang Ye-won’s portrayal of the woman is sublime; the 36-year-old actress delivers so well that her performance grabs the audience by the throat. Cheol-ha’s thriller cleverly focuses on Soo-A’s story, her character development, her fears and anxiety as well as her strength and resilience, which drives the film’s tension in an unpredictable way; it is all quite well balanced. Lee Sang-yoon’s characterization of the stubborn and ambitious journalist Nam-soo is decent enough; he portrays the hard-edged investigative reporting satisfactorily. His emotional involvement in the case and his efforts to bring down those involved in the kidnapping turned him into a ‘muckcraker’ reporter, which I personally liked. Choi Jin-ho’s depiction of the demented doctor Jang is beyond my comprehension; his stellar performance completely takes over the film for about 50 minutes. His compulsion to abuse his patients and treat them as a ‘non-existing trash’ is shown sufficiently in the film. Choi is a versatile actor who is also known for his involvement in Korean TV Dramas; I must admit that the portrayal of villains suits him the best. The filmmaker has certainly chosen a top-notch cast without which the film wouldn’t have been the same.
The script is well written and Lee has definitely proved that he likes to explore different forms of work: from music videos to a documentary and a mystery thriller. I like the fact that the production partly took place within the walls of a psychiatric hospital, which is also very well captured by Kim Min; his camera work is impressive.
Lee’s new film turns out to be a good, yet creepy, terrifying and intense mystery thriller; it also shows how messed up the reality could be if we allowed it.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Insane & Oal Co. Ltd