The Informant #Kmovie review: Watch a movie (figuratively) masturbate in front of your eyes!

As a fictional representation of the society that they were created in, movies are interesting windows into the soul of a society. This is not a huge leap of imagination to understand this. What is a leap is that bad movies may have as much to show you about a society as good or even great movie. Bad movies are less polished and less well thought out and crafted. Thus, in a way, it can show one the most common pedestrian view and understanding of that society that can only be seen without all the intellectual insight and messages that a good movie has. This movie, “Informant”, is one of those cases.
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The Plot
The “Informant” is a movie based on a real life event in the vein of a “Law and order” episode. Well, more of a law and order: SVU episode since it is very schlocky. The original “Law and order” show tended to have more class.

What are the real life events this movie is using as a basis?
It is the so called “Hwang Woo-suk’s stem cell fraud case”. Hwang Woo-suk was a professor in Korea that claimed that he was able to clone stem cells which was made into a national hero by Korean media at the time. The truth was that it was a total con in which none of the claims were true. Here is a link to a wiki entry about it if you want to get into it with more detail.

The “Informant”, at its core, is a reporter movie in the vein of “All the president’s men” (1976) which is rather obvious since they have their own deep throat character. However, the ambitions of the movie are too lofty as none of the elements of the movie stacks up to the great or even decent movies of that genre. Unlike those movies, I did not get out of this movie day dreaming of being a reporter. I was rather shocked by how ….naked (?)  this movie felt without the staff actually noticing it. I’ll get to this way down this review.

The movie starts with your deep throat character calling up a “NBC” TV news program reporter to confess the secret about his former employer. (NBC is not a real network in Korea. There is an MBC though). As you would expect, this leads to some investigation, turmoil regarding external threats, and ultimately ends with the triumph of press over something…. well over themselves and the stupid masses I think. Yes, it is one of those movies that end with the dissemination of information solving everything and the world is good again. It is very standard movie in all parts except for the fact that it is not good. It is more of an exploitation movie at its core and it is the most fun when it is raw about what it is.

The title
The Korean title of this movie is rather difficult to translate with all the nuances of the original title. “제보자 is the person who calls in with a tip usually anonymously about mostly negative events or facts. So, the closest terms would be Informant or Whistleblower. At the same time, these two terms tend to have different narrative images associated with them at least for myself. With the term “Informant”, I imagine the “other person” as subject of the narrative while the object of it being the Informant. For example, “I, the reporter, am looking into the informant”. A movie example of this would be All the president’s men” (1976). With the term, Whistleblower, I image the subject being the Whistleblower. Thus, the subject of the narrative is Whistleblower and the movie is about that person’s journey. A movie example of this would be “The Whistleblower (2010).

What would term would fit this movie? I would have to say that Informant would fit a little bit better although it was a close race. The movie’s focus is all over the place especially in the first 2 acts of the movie. As a side note, there is no clear parallel term for Whistleblower in Korean.

Insightful, No?

Fictional, inspired, or based on?
This movie is the “fictionalized” version of a real event that happened in Korean around the year 2004. It is now common for movies to be “based” or “inspired” by real events in order for dramatization and to avoid any legal issues. The reason I used the term “fictionalized” is because this movie is located on a weird place on the real event based movie spectrum.

On one hand, the movie uses the real life events as major plot points to such a degree and assumes that the audience knows the story that, if you do not have prior knowledge of the actual events, it is difficult to follow the plot. At the same time, it is trying the put some distance between it and the real events by changing the names of characters and organizations involved with the real life events. I laughed when I noticed that the movie changed the protagonist’s affiliated TV network from “MBC” to “NBC”. It is really a joke.  However, this goes on just being a shallow cover up for legal reasons. Most of the characters in the movie including the protagonists and the antagonists are just stock movie characters. Most of the characters are not even based on real people. In other words, while the movie is not an accurate depiction of events, it cannot exist as an independent piece of fiction on its own also. 

What is the movie about?
What is the movie about? This is actually not an easy question to answer during the first hour of the movie. The movie is rather messy in what it is in the first half. It is one of those screenwriting example cases in which one constructs the first half of a movie after creating the latter half but does not really have a clear idea how to do it. Thus, the first half is chaotic and unfocused. The result is the audience does not really know initially what the movie is going for other than to use the notoriety of the real life event for financial gain.

However, as I got into the latter parts of the movie, it hits you like a brick! However, you have to not be caught in cheap nationalistic and not be overly comfortable on your moral high horse like a lot of Korean audiences and critics. This movie is a masturbatory celebration of the power of media in Korea. I mean media with a capital M, E, D, E, A!!!!!

It is like seeing someone enjoying his day time masturbation which in its self is off putting. However, what pushes the viewer over the edge is that fact that the guy is figuratively buck naked. It is not a pretty sight.

A 4 act movie: Snooping, doubting, passion play, and triumph
The movie is made of basically 4 acts. The first act is the “Snooping around” phase in which the informant contacts the movie’s protagonist, the reporter. And he starts investigating stuff. The problem with this act is that the movie does not bother to provide any contextual information about either the crime itself or the evidences the reporter is trying to gather. Since I lived in Korea during the real life events that inspired this movie, I had some background knowledge about the crime. However, even I had issues with understanding the context of what was going on which is not a good thing for an investigative reporter movie. I could not get a hold on whether the reporter was actually good at his job or not.

The second act is the “doubt” phase in which both the informant and the reporter doubt whether there was actually a crime. During the first act, the reporter drove the plot although the informant played a significant role in the narrative. This flips during the second act as the informant breaks down under the pressure and ends up doubting his own claims. Structurally, this weakens the already fragile narrative drive of the investigation of the first act. On the execution side, this is handled terribly as the informant is not well written as a character. He is embarking on this big endeavor that would most likely ruin his life and his motivations are too broad and soap opera like. They even toss in a seriously ill young daughter to ramp up the melodrama.

However, the informant is not the only one who is handled in this manner. No one in this movie is written to be anything beyond two dimensional cut outs. The reporter comes out even worse as he suddenly bitches like an emo kid saying “I trusted you! You ruined my life”. But there is no reason for reacting in this manner as he was just looking into an unsubstantiated tip. At the moment,
He had not personally invested in this crusade at the moment.
There is no crusade at this moment.
Compared to the informant, the reporter does not actually have much to lose.
 You start to see where the movie is heading towards at this point.

This second act is also when the antagonist, the doctor, really starts to come to the front introducing a thriller vibe to the movie that is not warranted by the narrative. This thriller aspect confuses the movie about what the doctor character is supposed to be. The movie treats the character as one of the grand movie villains that always has a smile on his face but you can feel that there is something sinister underneath that mild mannered smile. You could say that the character has a smiling mob boss image. However, the movie does not show him actually doing something significant enough to warrant that image. After everything said and done, the doctor is actually just a conman who were able to con his way to fame and glory with a rather short sighted game plan. They movie does not even bother to show him after the climax of the last act.

What is the movie ACTUALLY about?
The third act is the “passion play” phase in which the movie revels in its self-martyrdom against the oppression of the ignorant masses. The other mainstream media turns and the protagonist and company on the manipulation of the doctor. The ignorant masses then turns on the protagonists as if they would lich them in a Frankenstein and pitch fork manner. The third act is where the movie kicks into high gear and is actually the most trashy fun the movie has. This is not surprising since this is the start of what the movie actually wants to show.

What is the theme of the movie?
What is the reason for using this real event as a subject?

The movie actually does not tell you directly why this real event happened. In truth it is a rather complicated event caused by many things inherent to Korean then and even now.
There is general corruption in Korean academia.
There are issues with the distribution of Government R&D funds based on popularity.
Gimmick based public’s mindsets.
None of this is actually covered in the movie. There is a mentioned of whether to choose the truth or the good of the state. This is a now cliché question to ask now. This comes up three times or so in the movie but there is no actually discussion about this in the movie. Our protagonists just say truth like truth is some tangible object that you can pick up at your local Walmart.

In addition, this is not actually the question that fits the situation of the movie accurately. The good of the state, in this case, is the “foreign” fame and “foreign” investment generated by the success of cloning stem cells within Korea which is basically the wilderness of the medical community for anything except for plastic surgeries.  Those, we a great at.  The truth is that cloned stem cells cannot be delivered at the moment and there are no real prospects that this could be delivered any time soon. As a con, the con in the movie and in real life is not a sustainable one since you actually have to deliver results.

The movie simplifies the events by putting the problem solely on the shoulders of the doctor which may be the reason for the screen writer’s attempt to embellish the doctor’s character. The movie even avoids mentioning the involvement of the government other than the vaguest manner possible.

Media…Media, what should we do with you?
The movie does criticize two things in the third act with one being quickly over shadowed by the other. The movies does mentioned that the doctor was basically a image created by the mainstream media via their usual gimmick based reporting to service the crippling inferiority complex that defines a lot of what the modern Koreans are. Now this has gotten worse or may be because I have not been here for a long time. Most news story has some kind of angle comparing to foreign countries.
We are not as bad as the foreign countries!
We are better than foreign countries!
We made something that the foreign countries’ don’t have.

The news are so blunt about this is that it is rather shocking for the first few times. However, after a while, you do get use to them.  I grew up hearing news about some new thing that does not exist in other countries being developed in Korea. Every day there is some new wonderful thing that Koreans should be proud about being plastered on the  news. However, there are never any follow ups. If all of those stuff I saw were actual real stuff, Korea should have been the richest country on the planet on earth. However, it is not. It is not bad but it is not the big honcho.  What does this mean?

Well most of them are just embellishments on the part of the media or outright cons to rip off government funding. The crime in this movie and in real life is basically the same thing but on a much larger scale.

The people…I mean Koreans are just pitchfork wielding lemmings… I mean peasants! 

While this is very interesting area to look into, this movie quickly detours from it as the move is intended to be a celebration of the media. You cannot badmouth what you are celebrating to much. This is where the “doctor” characters come into play as this mastermind of manipulation as if he was the Emperor in the “Star wars” franchise. This makes it possible that for transferring all the blame from the media on to him. Most of the media except for the protagonist and company were just idiots who were duped.  Thus, all the responsibility of the media is washed away by the saying “ignorance is not a crime” and the fact that the protagonist is one of them.

Once the movie is finished with white washing the sins of the mainstream media, they really pump up the volume. You have the populous rising up to prevent the protagonist broadcasting a report about the case. I mean at this point, the protagonist has not even publically performed any action. He just did some investigations and did some interviews on tap that had not been aired. But the movie shows the masses coming up in a “occupy wall street” fashion defending this researcher, “the doctor”, as if he was the messiah that would save the world. You have thousands of people filling the streets with candles and also angry protests just because the researched faked a research paper and the media talked about it.

There is an interesting scene in this third act in which the protagonist is in a taxi trying to avoid the angry mob. The cab driver who does not know who he has sitting in back is talking shit about protagonist simply because the radio and TV says so. The reporter looks terrified by this mindless lemmings like behavior of what he considers to be the ignorant masses. It is his responsibility as an “educated elite of the community” to educate these ignorant barbarians. This is a strong motivating factor going into the fourth and final act. In addition, this scene is exactly mirrored in the final act also but to different effects.

The triumphant march… or the rise of darkness?
If the first two acts were just foreplay, the third act was the movie really starting to rubbing its genitals. The fourth act is where it climaxes. All the tension in the third act explodes in the final act. After going through the fire that is the oppression of the ignorant masses, the protagonists broadcast their little show and things rapidly turn around. The masses flip around as they do and started to chew on what they just had worshiped a moment ago and its game over. The movie does not even bother to look back at the doctor. Since the mob has changed direction, everything is good again. It is time to celebrate and the movie ends with the reporter doing a triumphant walk down the corridors of the network building with a cocky smile on his face.

The movie is intending this scene to be a uplifting scene. However, I got goose bumps from it. If you just darkened the scene and put some ominous music behind it, the mood of the scene would be totally different. Nothing had really changed between the start and the end of the movie. The masses are still as ignorant as ever. The media is still as powerful and irresponsible as ever. It is only that one monster, the doctor, had fallen and the his place had been filled with another possible monster, the reporter.

This is supported by the scene which mirrors a similar scene in the third act. After the broadcast went out and the masses started to turn, the reporter was in a taxi feeling smug about what was going on. The taxi driver starts bad mouthing the “doctor” who he supported before and the only reasons that he states for this change is the fact that he heard it on the news. I was horrified by the scene but the only response the reporter gave is a huge self-satisfied grin. This is almost the exact same scene as before. The only thing really changed is the direction of the driver’s cheap allegiances. And our protagonist does not get it. He is just happy that he and his cohorts are the big dog now who took down the giant. They is no acknowledgement that now they are the monsters. He is simply not self aware enough to notice this. 

This is why I call this movie a masturbatory celebration of the media’s power in Korea. The movie starts with the media is manipulating the ignorant masses and ends with it doing the same and celebrating it. In this torrent, the crime and the criminal gets swept away to nothing more than a byline.

At the end
 The “Informant” is not a good movie. It is a very trashy exploitation movie at its core which is not that well executed. All of the characters are just paper dolls prancing around and the movie lacks focus especially in the first half. The cast is barely competent which is not something to be too harsh about considering the material. I have seen some of the supporting actors do better work. The more memorable casting of the movie is the actor for the “doctor”. However, he did not do too much for me. He can do the smiling part of the villain decently but the underling cunningness does not really come out.  It just ends up making the motivations of the character confusing. In addition, the music score in the movie is rather bad. It is some kind of 80s synth thriller sounding score used very overtly to try to put suspense in a scene where there is none.

What the movie is good for is that it does give you an sense of Korean mass-popular politics and how the media works within that scene albeit a overly dramatic one. This is not the intent of the movie but an interesting side effect of bad writing and the trashing message of the movie. In that vein,   if you want to get a little better insight into Korean society, “Informant” is worth seining. However, you should remember to keep a critical mind and not just see what the movie wants you to see. See what their bumbling around inadvertently shows you.

Score: C- 

1 comment:

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