"A petty thief steals on the surface, but the devil steals the heart."
Following the death of his father, Yu Mok-hyeong (Heo Joon-ho), Hae-guk (Park Hae-il) travels to the rural village where he lived to settle his estate. No sooner does he arrive than it becomes blatantly clear that he is an unwanted guest and it isn't long before he begins to lock horns with the village inhabitants, led by the sinister Cheon Yong-deok (Jeong Jae-yeong). As Hae-guk's suspicions begin to be raised as to the circumstances surrounding his father's death, he starts to investigate, but as his determination to discover what really happened to Mok-hyeong grows, so does his belief that Yong-deok and his henchmen are deliberately hiding the truth beneath an intricate web of lies and deceit, and the more Hae-guk uncovers, the more he finds himself in mortal danger...
Based on an internet comic of the same name, Moss is far more a character driven film with copious amounts of action and violence also present within the storyline, than vice versa, and while, at its core, it's a fairly simple story, underlying references to power; corruption; revenge and guilt, as well as sin and redemption, create a veritable labyrinth of elements (visually mirrored in the network of tunnels Hae-guk discovers beneath the entire village), ultimately allowing the film to be far more worthy than one might initially imagine.
The majority of themes present will be fairly familiar to those with knowledge of Kang Woo-suk's previous work (and to fans of Korean cinema in general), but while social commentary within an implied social microcosm is quite common in South Korean films detailing similar themes, the 'community' in Moss feels much less a microcosm than a separate, twisted little world existing on the periphery of the bigger picture, albeit with various self-serving tentacles snaking into many areas of society at large.
While Moss' runtime of 163 minutes may make many balk, the narrative is sufficiently involved, with its numerous twists and turns, to (almost) warrant it. However, while the plotline is certainly executed well enough to ensure that it never noticeably drags and manages to hold the attention (often even grippingly so) for the vast majority of the time, the sheer length of the film does raise the question of whether some pruning might have been beneficial, nonetheless, and even though it does have to be said that virtually all of the 'goings on' detailed are, on some level, necessary to the overall storyline and conclusion, the fact that the first half of Moss is a far more taut affair would seem to play this out, suggesting a shortening, rather than a removal, of several scenes.
But by far the biggest problem with the almost two and three quarter hour running time is the fact that by the time an hour and a half has passed, we have been lead to believe that we have learnt enough about the village, the majority of its inhabitants and their history, to be able to largely ascertain the outcome of proceedings and, in fact, the narrative even feels like it is reaching its seemingly inevitable conclusion, but knowing that there's another hour of the film to go simply flags up the fact that there is something pivotal of which we are unaware. Considering the fact that one aspect of the storyline (or sub-plot, if you like) has been referenced several times by this point, but in a far more passing and almost throwaway manner than the depth given to other plot twists, it's pretty obvious that that arc will likely play a major part in the final outcome, for both the storyline and the characters themselves. As such, the game is rather given away, or at least fairly obvious.
That said, the cat and mouse battle (both of wills and physically) between Hae-guk and Yong-deok that the story gradually becomes, ultimately succeeds, not least because of (rather than in spite of) the plethora of cascading sub-plot elements adding to proceedings throughout.
Cinematically, Moss is sumptuous, even during the numerous night scenes which also serve, along with those within the underground labyrinth beneath the village, to create a pervading creepiness which, combined with regular hand held camera work, adds a noticeable growing tension to the game of cat and mouse between the main characters. In spite of the darkness (both visually and in terms of narrative), superb cinematography creates a noticeable beauty to both day and night scenes and an eerie musical score accents this yet further.
For most of the running time of Moss, the characters of Yong-deok and Hae-guk would appear to be the most important, with Yong-deok's personality and history detailed in much greater depth than that of any other character. However, the importance of the various supporting roles should not be underestimated, as it is the success of their characterisations that raises the believability of the power and menace wielded by Yong-deok and the vice-like grip with which he controls those around him.
Mention should also be made of the elements of humour which pepper the dark narrative giving a brief and welcome respite, provided largely by Kim Deok-cheon (Yoo Hae-jin), one of the village inhabitants and henchman to Yong-deok, and by the ongoing interactions between Hae-guk and Park Min-uk (Yu Jun-sang), a state prosecutor determined to bring him down for destroying his career.
I've pretty much lost count of the number of times I've said it in previous reviews, but the performances (from every one of the main cast) are accomplished and nuanced throughout Moss.
However, Jeong Jae-yeong's portrayal of Yong-deok is exemplary to a level far beyond the norm: Equally sinister as Yong-deok in his seventies as he is as a man in his thirties (in flashback sequences), Jeong Jae-yeong’s incredible performance easily raises the level of proceedings virtually every time he appears on screen.
Based on an internet comic of the same name, Moss’ underlying references to power; corruption; revenge and guilt, as well as sin and redemption, create a veritable labyrinth of elements within the narrative, ultimately allowing the film to be far more worthy than one might initially imagine.
Heo Joon-ho, Park Hae-il, Jeong Jae-yeong, Yoo Seon
edition reviewed here is the UK (Region 2) Inclusionism Single Disc release, provided for review courtesy of Inclusionism. The film itself is
provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (even though the DVD cover art states 1.85:1), there are no image artifacts (and no ghosting) present, and the visuals are beautifully sumptuous throughout.
The original Korean
language soundtrack is provided as Dolby Digital 2.0 and is well balanced and nuanced.
The subtitles are exemplary, and one really nice touch is the decision by Inclusionism to also subtitle the main cast and crew credits at the end of the film. It is the attention paid to aspects such as this and the beautiful, fully animated menus (as well as a great presentaion of the main feature and exclusive special features) that help to make this a really superb DVD release.
• Director: Kang Woo-suk
• Format: PAL,
Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
• Region: Region 2
• Aspect Ratio:
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: 15
• Studio: Inclusionism
• Run Time: 163 minutes (approx.)
- Behind The Scenes Featurette
- Exclusive (UK only) Interview with Director Kang Woo-suk
- Exclusive (UK only) Interview with Original 'Moss' Comic Writer/Artist Yun Tae-ho
- Original Trailer
- Preview Trailer for Daytime Drinking