Following in the footsteps of complex murder dramas like Memories of Murder and I Saw the Devil, Rage, from Japanese director Sang-il Lee, has a tense yet tender approach to traditional thrillers. In it, three seemingly unrelated stories of love and loss slowly draw together around a vicious murder.
Two teenage lovers stumble across a strange, but friendly, hobo on an abandoned military island. A closeted business-type falls for a quiet loner he meets at a bathhouse. A father takes in a troubled transient at the behest of his daughter. All three stories consider the blind nature of love, but the actively dangerous role rootless men occupy in the contemporary cultural conscience. It’s essentially a film which explores how easy it is to doubt people who don’t discuss their pasts.
One of Lee’s most endearing qualities is his ability to stack moments of abject terror alongside heartfelt and deeply revealing moments, without losing either. The horror of Rage’s opening crime scene is a dark introduction to the world, but- optimistically- it doesn’t define this world. Rage is, after all, a film about forgiveness. Its balanced and omniscient, using some great long shots to let action and performance play out in way so natural its easy to get swooped up. The atmosphere is less composed of horror or paranoia, and more from intrigue. Lee is careful not to point out the murderer early, letting the audience’s own biases influence how we see these estranged men.
What starts out as a careful whodunnit slowly warps into a careful character study of a small band of unconnected but increasingly disparaged nobodies. Facts and revelations are few and far between but Lee masterfully allows each of his characters to step outside their comfort zones, continually asking the question ‘do we ever really know someone’. So its not so much a film that builds tension around the real identity of the killer, but more how easy it is for everyday people to do seemingly alien things. Its a film with empathy for each of its characters but it doesn’t trust any of them.
In this way we could say it belongs alongside Kurosawa’s Creepy from last year, another film which has a flexible approach to morality and a disturbing talent for tainting seemingly idyllic environments. A quiet tender flip-side to the nihilistic thrillers we expect from Japan.
Dir. Sang-il Lee
Stars. Ken Watanabe, Mirai Moriyama, Kenichi Matsuyama, Go Ayano