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?

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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.

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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.

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Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All photos  © Insane & Oal Co. Ltd

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About View of the Arts

We are open-minded individuals, for whom there are no limits. We always seem to spend our last few pennies on the arts instead of bread and butter! Oh well, it’s worth it! You will always find us in a cinema, at film festivals, fashion shows, concerts, galleries or the theatre. We are a group of female film critics, arts journalists, and photographers.


Film, Korean Cinema


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