Published Aug 15, 2013With his second feature film, Kim Byung-woo harnesses the nihilistic bent that permeates many South Korean thrillers in service of a scathing attack on the integrity of authority figures traditionally seen as pillars of trustworthiness.
To a pre-Internet mindset, the newscaster was a symbol for someone who could be relied upon to uphold the truth above all else. When legal methods of accountability fail to ruffle political feathers, at least citizens could count on a respectable journalist to seed a public shaming of the offending untouchable.
The Walter Cronkite syndrome (or Lloyd Robertson, for Canadians) has been diminished by the report-it-first-get-it-right-later mentality of web journalism. The Terror, Live is born of this place of disillusionment and frustration.
Ha Jung-woo (the, shall we say, disturbed, antagonist of Chaser) stars as fallen news anchor Yoon Young-hwa, who, bitter over being demoted to radio, maintains a desultory work ethic and chip on his shoulder. Until a golden opportunity to climb back on top of the media world presents itself, that is. When a distraught man calls in to his talk show — it's by no means incidental that the topic of discussion is regional economics — claiming to have a bomb planted on the heavily travelled Mapo Bridge, Yoon dismisses it as a hoax, even encouraging the potential terrorist to stop whining and press the button. A massive explosion a moment later changes Yoon's tune in a hurry.
Instead of immediately notifying the police, the selfish careerist begins working out an exclusive interview with the caller to ensure a ratings spike and the kind of national attention that'll get him back on the media throne of television. Unlike most American equivalents, The Terror, Live is more concerned with the motivations of the terrorist than the machinations of his threats.
While describing the film as Die Hard: With a Vengeance meets Network wouldn't be totally out of line, this isn't a cat-and-mouse game full of elaborate conditions and trickery. Our antagonist simply wants an apology from the president. The tension, and another expression of the titular terror, is derived from the lengths to which the government will go to avoid giving in to, or even considering, terrorist demands, no matter how simple and ultimately reasonable.
Kim (who also co-wrote the movie) presents national security as a human shield for pride in this case. Though it ends up in a place of anarchistic sensationalism, the issue is never reduced to black and white. Throughout its many twists and turns, every action, no matter how "right" it seems, has unexpected consequences and trusting in gut morality can be more damaging than knowing when to play the game.
Despite a few unnecessary concessions to the demand for action from today's audiences, The Terror, Live is an effective take on the hostage thriller genre that will leave you wondering what your integrity is worth, rather than quoting one-liners and comparing explosions. (CJ Entertainment)