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STUDIO: Genius Products (TVN)
RUNNING TIME: 115 Minutes
- The Making of Wide Awake
- Deleted Scenes
- Cast Interviews
- Production Design Featurette
- Anaesthesia Awareness Featurette
Its the Hayden Christensen movie Awake with an actual plot and murder and stuff.
Kim Myung-Min, Yu Jujn-Sang, Kim Tae-Woo, Jung You-Seok and Kim You-Mi. Directed by Lee Gyu-Man.
1982 and a small child undergoes major heart surgery in South Korea. Something doesn’t go quite right and the anesthetic doesn’t take. The child is basically awake but paralyzed the entire duration of the surgery meaning he feels every single thing and is unable to scream. This causes him some major trauma. Flash forward twenty five years later and after mysterious deaths of medical personnel, prominent surgeon Ryu Jae-Woo and his wife are being threatened by one of Jae-Woo’s patients husband for causing the death of his wife. Then Jae-Woo’s estranged childhood friend Uk-Hwan shows up and things get weirder.
You could look at the cover for Wide Awake (known as Return in South Korea) and read the synopsis on the back and think that it was another lesser known Asian revenge saga, the kind they have been doing so well recently. You could even get the impression that its some kind of demented slasher flick where people get murdered in blood soaked surgical fashion. You would be wrong on both counts. Wide Awake has more in common with the glossy mystery/suspense thrillers that were produced in the early 90’s like Shattered or Malice. Its a film that unfolds slowly, some would say too slowly and while it has a neat central narrative it spends far too much time meandering to be called a great film. The first act is quite confusing and muddled. It opens well enough with a child undergoing heart surgery sometime in the seventies and alarmingly being the one in a thousand patients that experience anaesthesia awareness. The director Lee Gyu-Man chooses to show this not with tons of blood but with brief footage of a circular saw cutting into his ribcage and the soundtrack is filled with the screams of the child who lies motionless because his muscles are paralyzed whilst the surgeons proceed oblivious. This is then followed by a scene of the now traumatized child being comforted by his mother whilst the doctors refute his claim that he was conscious throughout the procedure. We then flash forward twenty five years to prominent surgeon Ryu Jae-Woo who along with his wife is being harassed by the husband of a patient who died on his table.
We are introduced to the main characters; his best friend and anaesthetist, the aforementioned wife and the strange loner Uk-Hwan who comes back into town and arrives unannounced at Jae Woo’s doorstep. During these scenes are some jarring flashbacks to the traumatised child’s life growing up where we see that his experience turned him into a budding sociopath. One scene in particular has him throwing new born chicks against a tree and killing them and dumping bodies into literal shitholes. These arrive jarringly and are interspersed with shots of newspaper headlines describing the mysterious deaths of medical personnel around the country. At this point I was very confused and unsure as to what the idea was editing wise as surely it would have been better to get all this out the way in the prologue, especially as the flashbacks are more interesting that what is happening in the present.
The film then becomes something like a daytime soap. Jae-Woo and his colleagues have to deal with a patient who cannot have anesthesia in the traditional sense due to an infection and therefore they debate bringing in a hypnotist Oh Chi-Hoon to try and lull the patient sufficiently so they won’t feel pain. There is then a pretty tense and well staged surgery scene where everyone is trying to be quiet as mice should the man they are operating on come out of his hypnotic state. At this point its an hour in and you may be wondering where the hell this is going and where the hell is Noah Wyle. Thankfully it picks up after this and with a major death you won’t see coming. The director then piles on red herring after red herring. There are revelations, more deaths and twists and reveals in the plot. The whole thing is fairly ludicrous and relies on suspension of disbelief a bit too much but the last twenty minutes or so are undeniably fun.
My Korean isn’t what it used to be but the performances are all pretty solid especially from Yu Jun-Sang as the mysterious friend back in town and the creepy as hell Kim Tae-Woo as the hypnotist. The main character played by Kim Myung-Min is a bit of a blank slate but is adequate for the role being played. There isn’t really any directorial flair from Lee Gyu-Man to speak of, its unfussy and suffers from some very poor editing choices. Even the flashbacks are not really staged all that well and its only in the final act when things become more coherent that I learnt that the main characters knew about the deaths of medical personnel all along and were suspicious from the beginning. The film is too long for what it is as well and could have lost the ethical debate which makes up the flabby mid section. Trimming fifteen or so minutes would have made all the difference.
If you are expecting another South Korean masterpiece along the lines of I Saw The Devil and Bedevilled then move along, there is nothing for you here. If you are looking for a ludicrous twisty plot with a fun last twenty minutes then this might be your bag. Lord knows its better than that Hayden Christensen movie.
Far more in depth than a film like this deserves. You basically get a thirty eight minute featurette on the making of where all the principal cast praise the supposed suspenseful nature of the script although admit its confusing. Then some worrying behind the scenes footage of the stunts featuring a lack of a stunt double for a child actor who probably died on set. There is a featurette on the production design revealing how they created the harrowing opening surgery scene and also indicates that by littering the main characters apartment with empty beer bottles this indicates he is bereaved. There is ten minutes of actor interviews where the principles basically repeat everything they said in the making of. More interesting is a five minute featurette on real life ‘Anaesthesia Awareness’ which informs us that one in a thousand patients in the US undergoing surgery will experience this and that the film is based on the testimony of some of those poor souls. The director hopes that his film will increase awareness of the issue which is sad because this is straight to DVD in the west so no dice. There are the obligatory deleted scenes totaling twelve minutes including an extremely graphic sex scene which would have been totally out of place with the rest of the movie but does develop a central character a bit more. Then there is more footage of the Uk-Hwan character acting nuts and some tender scenes between Ryu Jae-Woo and his wife which I would have left in so that these two didn’t come across as such planks in the main feature. Not bad overall.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars