Review By: Christopher J. Wheeler
Bang Eun-jin’s 2012 thriller PERFECT NUMBER (aka “Suspect X”) claimed a respectable $1.5M in admissions during its run in Korean theaters late last year. The film stars the versatile superstar Ryoo Seung-beom as Seok-go, a soft-spoken mathematical genius who crafts the perfect plot to help wash the blood off of his neighbor’s hands. This, Bang’s third feature film, is a cleverly constructed piece that strikes an unnerving balance between Seok-go’s good intentions and the questionable actions he’s willing to take protect his love interest.
The film was adapted from Keigo Higashino’s “The Devotion of Suspect X” (2005), the award-winning third novel in the “Detective Galileo” series. Many Korean films have found themselves looking to their Japanese neighbors for inspiration, and more often than not such conversions translate rather well (Park Chan-wook’s OLD BOY comes immediately to mind). The result is a solid story that feels well thought-out and is tightly woven in all the right places. Its plot points were well conceived and the film’s twists reveal themselves organically, lending credit to the strong source material Bang was working from.
Living right next-door to Seok-go is Hwa-seon (Lee Yo-won), a single mother who looks after her young daughter Yoon-ah (Kim Bo-ra). Seok-go has kept his eye on her since they moved in; secretly listening through the walls while his fantasy of love for her grows. Early one evening, Seok-go overhears Hwa-seon and her daughter commit murder in self-defense and clutches the chance to save them from prosecution. Despite Seok-go’s guidance, case detective Min-beom (Jo Jin-woong) remains unconvinced of the tale being spun for him and continues to puzzle over the truth of that night. Seok-go’s carefully crafted plan gets put to the test as Min-beom turns out to be an old school friend. His perfect plan is further troubled when a mysterious love interest enters Hwa-seon’s world, an unplanned variable that exposes Seok-go’s psychopathic allurements to those around him.
Tension in PERFECT NUMBER cleverly orbits Seok-go’s motivations and capabilities, rather than strictly being localized around the detectives’ inquisitions. Throughout the film Seok-go is presented as the creepy voyeur, a maths-obsessed psychopath who dwells in the shadows and who holds inappropriate theories of what love really means. His destination may remain morally admirable, however the path in which his walks to reach that goal is constantly under question and riddled with mystery.
Ryoo Seung-beom puts on a fantastic performance here as it’s not easy to cast a sympathetic light on a psychopath, even one as mild-mannered as Seok-go. A fine line had to be walked to avoid alienating the audience from investing in this atypical love story. Ryoo was also well supported, most notably by Jo Jin-woong’s character Detective Min-beom that sniffs hard at Seok-go’s plot to conceal the truth. Lee Yo-won’s role as that object of desire was perhaps the weakest link in this conspiracy triangle, save for one powerful scene whereby she submits to what she thinks is Seok-go’s true goal.
PERFECT NUMBER surprises with its robust narrative, as well as some strong performances spearheaded by the adaptable Ryoo Seung-beom. Some of the investigation practices the detectives engage in did taint some of film’s believability, but since the film centers its suspense on Seok-go and his unknown capabilities, such culturally coded discourse was not enough to tip the scales against it. Bang Eun-jin’s PERFECT NUMBER finds that illusive golden mean in more areas than one, making it a pleasing adaptation that should not be missed.
*Premiered at the 2012 Busan International Film Festival
|No rating, 119 minutes|
|Cast: Ryoo Seung-Bum 류승범 (Suk-Go), Lee Yo-Won 이요원 (Hwa-Sun), Cho Jin-Woong 조진웅 (Detective Min-Bum), Kim Yoon-Sung 김윤성 (Sang-Joon)|
|Director: Bang Eun-Jin|
|Screenwriter(s): Kim Tae-Yoon, Lee Kong-Joo, Lee Jung-Hwa|
|Producer(s): Lee Suk-Won, Lim Sang-Jin, Shin Yang-Joong|
|Cinematographer: Choi Chan-Min|
|Foreign Language Film: Korean|
|Distributor: CJ Entertainment|