As one of the films featured in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival’s (TIFF) City to City program, I was intrigued by different meaning of the title of the film in English than in Korean (the Korean title would translate to “good friends”). What could a film with two such titles – “Confession” and “Good Friends” be about? And after watching the film, I have to say that both titles work with the story and the combination of the two really makes sense in this dark crime drama.
Confession (좋은 친구들) centres on three long-time friends – Hyun Tae, In Chul and Min Soo – who have been best friends since childhood. Hyun Tae is a married paramedic with a young daughter and who is at odds with his parents, In Chul works at an insurance company and spends his time hustling it with his clients, and Min Soo is a small business owner whose only family are his friends.
Things get complicated when Hyun Tae’s estranged mother, who owns an illegal gambling den, asks In Chul to stage a robbery/arson to get the insurance settlement so she can retire and look after her sick husband. He agrees and asks Min Soo to help but their good intentions unexpectedly result in her accidental death. Hyun Tae, despite or perhaps because of the estrangement, hunts for the “killer” and as a result, their relationships with each other are forever changed.
Confession was an extremely gripping crime drama that features ordinary guys – not hardened criminals despite In Chul’s attempt at insurance fraud – who are caught up in circumstances. What was attempted with the best of intentions – to help a friend’s family out of a bad situation – becomes a horrible tragedy with repercussions that spread like ripples in a pond.
The film starts out showing three friends escaping their middle school graduation to visit a mountain. When an accident befalls one of them, we see a glimpse of the men they will become. But that isn’t the only reason for this scene as becomes apparent near the end of the film. Fast forward 15 years or so and the main story unfolds with the three of them still close friends.
Confession is a dark character-driven crime film that was more dark drama than thriller. We know “who did it” and why so as we watch the film progress, we get to see what each of the three friends are truly made of after an unfortunate series of events leads to an accident that claims Hyun Tae’s mother’s life and puts his ill father in the hospital.
Two things struck me in this film.
First, how director and writer Lee Do Yoon (이도윤) built nuanced characters whose surface personality and inner core don’t always match. It’s interesting that the three of them stayed friends for so long when they are so different. In Chul, played by Ju Ji Hoon (주지훈), is a guy who seeks the easy path in life (hence the hustling and insurance fraud), Hyun Tae, played by Ji Sung (지성), is a firefighter who stood up to his parents to marry the girl he loved and Min Soo, played extremely well by Lee Kwang Soo (이광수), is a hapless pushover whose only family is his friends.
Or at least that was how they appeared on the surface. As the film progresses we see how In Chul, while still an ass (how he treated his girlfriend/lover was horrible), would do anything for his friends even if it’s illegal. Hyun Tae isn’t as honourable or nice as he seems and Min Soo lost his family at a young age so has developed a very deep connection to his friends, it also appears that he feels everything deeply.
The second element that jumped out to me was that Confession was one of those films were everything goes wrong. You can’t imagine the horrible comedy of errors that make up this gripping drama. But even with all the twists and turns, I kept being surprised by the next twist. For example, I would never have guessed that In Chul’s girlfriend would be suspected of committing the crime. Or what happened in the airport bathroom.
But even beyond the horrible twists of fate that turns a simple insurance fraud fire into murder and the attention-grabbing story that keeps you engaged throughout, it’s the characters that truly elevate Confession. They are human, flawed but believable. You can’t help but feel for them, even In Chul. We see them develop, delve into their personalities and feel the emotion that drives the film. When Hyun Tae’s mom dies, he’s broken up about not only her death but the fact that she died while they were still at odds with each other. Not sending that text must have been killing him.
One of the biggest surprised came when it looked like Min Soo was going to confess to what happened, and based on the title of the film and his personality it made sense. But not that he would feel such guilt and responsibility to his friends that he’d kill himself while taking sole responsibility for the crime. However, with all the twists, surprises and emotion; it was In Chul who both surprised me the most and whom I connected with. I both didn’t like him for most of the film and yet admired him at the end which is odd but a credit to writer/director Lee Do Yoon for creating such great characters.
I was extremely impressed with Lee Do Yoon’s debut feature film. It’s an interesting, quick-paced crime drama with characters who are human and fallible but real. It’s also a film that will appeal to many viewers. Go see it!