TIFF Review: Intruders (조난자들)

Intruders poster
Intruders poster

I love films – all kinds of films – which is one of the reasons I both watch and write about them… a lot. And for me, the best films are the ones that surprise you. Intruders (조난자들) was one of those films. Don’t get me wrong, I was expecting to like it but it completely surprised me by both how engaged I got and by the fact that it wasn’t what I expected at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

And now it’s time for the normal film review warning… **spoiler alert** I did try not to say too much but there may be some spoilers.

Synopsis

In this thriller with comedic elements, director Noh Young Seok (노영석) tells the story about a young(ish) screenwriter who has ventured to a cabin in the Korean countryside (deep in the mountains in the winter no less) for some peace and quiet to finish his latest manuscript. Along the way he meets an ex-con who has just gotten out of prison and who wants to befriend him. And that’s just the first of the distractions as his solitude is crashed time & time again. Intruders is a darkly funny thriller that will have you wondering what’s going to happen next.

My Thoughts

Like I said at the start, it was completely different than I expected based on his first film. You see, I try to go into films with as little knowledge as possible about the plot/story, which is much harder than it sounds given that I often write previews about the Korean films come to Toronto (and perhaps a little funny given that I review films). But we all have our preconceptions and Intruders completely smashed mine… in a good way!

Intruders is a thriller and I’m going to be very careful about what I say in the review because this is one film I don’t want to give spoilers on. Some films you can read reviews, spoilers and even a complete synopsis on it without all the information ruining your viewing experience. I don’t think the same is true about Intruders (or really any thriller, I think that you’ll enjoy it more if you just let yourself get swept up by the story.

I quite enjoyed it, and loved how it wasn’t what I was expecting but… it had a really slow start. The first 10-15 minutes had me wondering a bit but then the story started to get on a role, the plot deepened and I was caught. It wasn’t so much that I was wondering “who did it?” although that was a part of it, but rather I was trying to piece together how all these disparate events could be woven together. I love films that make me think and Intruders certainly gave my mind a workout.

For me, it was the characters interactions that truly raised this film above other thrillers, as well as the characters themselves. They just all seemed so real, so authentic. The main character was quite likeable and believable, and well-acted by Jun Suk Ho (전석호). But I think it was the ex-con, played by Oh Tae Kyung (오태경) that truly made the film, not knowing what he was in jail for (especially knowing he was in solitary) keeps you guessing throughout the film. And he earnest, overly-friendly overtures make him likable even when you are wondering what he’s guilty of.

Intruders has an intelligent plot with more twists than most thrillers, it will keep you guessing on who the “intruders” are until the end. If you pay attention, and perhaps know a little about Korea, the foreshadowing will both help you understand what’s happening – I’m looking at you “news” – and further confuse you – the frequent mentions of “pig”.

Loved the ending! Did he live? Who was at the door? I normally hate endings like that but in this case, not knowing fit perfectly with the rest of the film. If it wasn’t for the slow start, I would have absolutely loved the film. As it was, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone. It did take me a while to get engaged with the story but once I did, I was all in. Go see it!

Final Thoughts

I love when I’m writing something and then I wonder, “hmm… am I the only one who thinks this?” so I do a little research and find out that I wasn’t. You see, I often think that certain Korean films will either make more sense or be more enjoyable if the viewer has a little knowledge of Korean culture (and no, I don’t think that only Koreans can understand them as some writers assert, I think anyone with some knowledge will do fine). Intruders is one of those films. Oh, it’ll be an enjoyable film for anyone who likes thrillers regardless of their knowledge of Korea but those with some knowledge will get more from it. And I’m not the only one to think so, it was if Todd Brown from Twitch was reading my mind in his review of the film. 

Did you watch Intruders (조난자들) at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)? What did you think of it?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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