The Terror (Live) (2013) [Review]

the terror live poster

After many requests to watch a South Korean film that is less “stabby”, I looked to the South Korean box-office history to unearth Kim Byung-woo’s first mainstream film that opened on the same weekend as Snowpiercer back in 2013. The Terror (Live) documents an anchormans fight to suppress a progressively horrifying situation live on air, in which a disgruntled caller starts following through on seemingly far-fetched threats.

Think of it as a cross between Phone Booth and Network, as this frenzied story unravels at great pace within almost one room, the claustrophobic intensity reaches new heights with each threat, not knowing when and if it will end. Yoon Young-hwa is our journalist in question (Ha Jung-woo), shafted by his old boss, divorced by his wife, he is a man who has given up on anything good happening for him. That is until he receives this phone call on his new radio show, with the anonymous caller claiming they will blow up one of Seoul’s primary bridges.

The caller comes through on the threat, but rather than panic, Young-hwa spots this as an opportunity to rebuild his career with an exclusive discussion with the terrorist. All does not go to plan though, and as the threats heighten, becoming more personal in every way, there is a gradual realisation that perhaps he should have let this one go. After all, it’s widely known that terrorist acts thrive on public attention, and he has given them one of the largest ones possible with him at the centre.

Ha Jung-woo’s performance of a conflicted man under intense pressure is captivating to say the least. Much in the same way his character wanted, the cameras are firmly focussed on him for the entirety, and he commands each scene with distressed composure, unable to show weakness yet visibly deteriorating before our very eyes. The script is simple and to the point, and while there is often a tendency in South Korean cinema for over the top melodrama it remains a relatively restrained affair given the circumstances.

Albeit for the final act, which I won’t go into, but it is like nothing of the film before it. However, this is not worth deterring you from setting your sights on this film. It is a richly intricate thriller with an enthralling storyline that leaves you guessing right until the very end. True unpredictability is a rare trait in thrillers, and when it is executed as well as it is here, no matter how over the top the pay-off is, it is hugely satisfying.

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