Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Wide Awake (aka Return) (2007)

Wide Awake (aka Return) (Review)
Lee Gyu-man/Kim Myung-min/2007
Where To Watch:
Netflix Streaming
Amazon Prime

"One of the more overlooked and under-appreciated thrillers..."

A young boy experiences anesthesia awareness during surgery and is traumatized afterward – but no one believes his story. 25 years later, the doctors who operated on the boy begin to die mysteriously...

Wide Awake follows Dr. Ryu Jae-woo (Kim Myung-min), a young surgeon, who believes he is being targeted by the young boy. He suspects a friend who has mysteriously reemerged, a man who has been stalking and threatening Jae-woo and his wife, and possibly a hypnosis who seems to know more than he lets on. Regardless, he finds clues in each and pieces together a vicious history. Wide Awake leads to an epic climax and a great ending.

Wide Awake is a case of “the less you know, the better.” My synopsis is a thin explanation of the plot, which is why it's so short this time around. It's a twisted thriller with plenty of character and thrills. The first half of the film is a little slow, though. It is also a little on the uneventful side, too. The buildup is effective, but it also feels like it drags its feet – a case of too much buildup and development, I suppose. Fortunately, the second half of the film becomes much more engaging and eventful. It becomes a heart-pounding thriller with some unpredictable elements. The concept overall – that is, the concept of being awake yet helpless during surgery – is terrifying and well-developed in the film; it adds some horror-like elements to the film, and it adds to the overall story.

The story also has a strong sense of realism – it has some issues that hinder that realism, but it ultimately felt very raw – maybe it was the photography or acting, but it really hits. The only other issue I had with Wide Awake was the occasional plot contrivance. The story only often feels contrived. “Oh, I dropped this.” “Oh no, I slipped.” Those moments that make you question the writing. There aren't many of these moments, but it has just enough to be noteworthy. Fortunately, most of the major plot points avoid these plot contrivances.

The acting is all-around great. A little melodramatic, especially during the introduction, but it ultimately works. Kim Myung-min is a great leading man – very charismatic and he is capable of hitting the correct emotional notes. Yoo Jun-sang was also great – I think his performance was the least overacted. The film looks great, too, I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography. The camerawork is also great. The music fits the film well – it's thrilling, emotional, mysterious and so on, and right on queue. Director Lee Gyu-man crafts a slow-burning and engaging thriller, with plenty of thrills and originality; however, the film does suffer somewhat from some convoluted storytelling, some plot contrivances, and minor pacing issues.

Overall, Wide Awake is a very good thriller. It takes time to build the characters and situation – maybe a little too much time – and leads to an immensely satisfying and thrilling second half. The climax and ending are great, too. It is, however, held back by the convoluted storytelling and the occasional plot contrivance. With a little effort, you have yourself a surprising thriller. One of the more overlooked and under-appreciated thrillers of the last decade – especially from South Korea.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, and scenes of surgery.

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