Confession (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4): A friendship cracked by noir

confession01 They have been close friends to each other since they were very young, but now their long friendship is threatened by a devastating incident which shakes them all. Calmy observing the guilt and torment resulted from that incident, South Korean film “Confession”, which is released in local theaters as “Good Friends”, tells a sad, gloomy story under its somber tragic mood pressing down on everyone in the movie. Even when they do not say a lot, what is beneath the surface feels palpable to us, and we even come to feel sorry about a certain character who can be labeled as the villain of the story.

At the beginning, the movie shows an unfortunate accident which happened in the past of its three main characters. When they are about to graduate from their middle school, Hyeon-tae, In-cheol, and Min-soo have their own special plan for the graduation day. Rather than attending the ceremony, they go to the top of a nearby mountain with a camera and their graduation certificates(they sneaked into their school and then stole them in advance), and they take photos together as best friends while enjoying their own private time on the mountain.

Everything looks fine to them, but then the weather is suddenly changed, and then they find themselves in a serious trouble. Min-soo gets injured due to an unexpected fall, and his friends manage to move him down from the peak, but heavy snow keeps falling on the mountain with lowering temperature. The time is running out, and it becomes harder for them to move further on the snow.

They luckily come across an empty cabin on their way, so they decide to stay there for a while. Because Min-soo is in a very serious condition and Hyeon-tae is also not in a very good condition, In-cheol decides that he should go outside alone for calling for help. After being left alone with Min-soo for hours, Hyeon-tae decides to take care of the situation for himself, so he takes Min-soo out of the cabin, but both of them soon become exhausted not long after that and then eventually collapse on the ground.

confession02 Fortunately, they are saved in time by In-cheol and others coming to the rescue, and the accident brings them closer than ever to each other. 17 years have passed since that, and they are still like brothers to each other while respectively living different lives. In-cheol(Joo Ji-hoon) works as an insurance agent, and Hyeon-tae(Ji Seong) works as a fireman, and Min-soo manages a small laundry while also running a retail beverage store.

We also meet Hyeon-tae’s mother(Lee Hwi-hyang), who has been estranged from her son due to his marriage she does not approve of. Hyeon-tae married Mi-ran(Jeong Ji-yoon), and they have been leading a happy family life with their adorable little daughter at their shabby apartment, but Hyeon-tae’s mother does not like that just because Mi-ran is a deaf mute orphan, and she and her son have only communicated with each other through In-cheol, who sometimes looks more like a son to her.

While insuring her small game arcade through In-cheol’s help, Hyeon-tae’s mother gets an idea for getting out of her current financial problem. She considers burning the game arcade for getting a nice big check from the insurance company, and In-cheol gladly joins in her scheme mainly because he is recently in a big trouble associated his own insurance scheme. Min-soo is naturally reluctant about this criminal plan when In-cheol asks Min-soo to help him, but he eventually becomes persuaded by his friend. After all, nobody will get hurt if everything goes well as planned, and, as In-cheol emphasizes, this scheme will benefit them as well as their best friend’s mom – and their best friend, perhaps.

confession04 I will not go into details about what will happen next, but I can tell you that the consequence will put everyone into a big emotional turmoil for different reasons. Shocked by this sudden happening, Hyeon-tae is determined to find who is responsible for that, especially after learning that the police is not very willing to investigate it for some reason. As watching their best friend in grief and desperation, In-cheol and Min-soo tremble in each own remorse and guilt, and they only find their situation worsening than before. There is a greedy mob boss who had some share in the game arcade, and there is also a fastidious inspector from the insurance company who has been focusing on In-cheol and is determined to get any evidence to incriminate him.

Maintaining the restrained tone throughout his film, the director/writer Lee Do-yoon draws good performances from his leading actors, and they are always believable as the characters who have known each other for many years but now have to hide something from each other. With Ji Seong as the stable neutral base in the story, Joo Ji-hoon and Lee Gwang-soo ably convey us the sense of implosion from their characters, and there are a number of emotionally tense moments between them as the camera closely watches their conversations which gradually become terse and awkward along the story.

Although its third act feels overlong and I do not think a flashback scene around the ending is necessary, “Confession” is an engaging drama with a touch of noir on the whole. Rather than resorting to cheap thrills or easy melodramatic tears, it wisely does not overplay the emotions churning behind its characters as steadily moving them into an inevitable point, and its understated ending is filled with bitter sadness over what can never be restored. Yes, they still do care about each other as before, but, sadly, they cannot go back to where they were – and they come to admit that with a price.

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