Room No.7 (2017) ☆1/2(1.5/4): Witless and toothless

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Watching South Korean film “Room No.7” was one of the most tedious experiences I have ever had during recent years. As a comedy, the movie is not funny at all, and, as far as I can remember, the audiences around me merely reacted to a few moments of cheap comedy. As a thriller, the movie is too lazy and sloppy in its execution to generate enough tension for engaging us, and I felt depressed more and more by its plodding plot and hapless characters during my viewing. As a story with some social messages, the movie often feels superficial and condescending, and that was another major offence which annoyed me a lot.

The first act of the movie focuses on its two main characters’ desperate financial circumstance. Doo-sik (Shin Ha-kyun) is the owner of a small DVD shop where you can rent and then watch DVD in one of its small booths, and he has struggled a lot in his humble business due to the lack of customers. In fact, he has been several months behind in rent, and he barely makes ends meet even though he also works as a proxy driver for drunken people at night.

Maybe he should shut down his business and then move onto whatever will come next, but that is nearly impossible for him at present. He already invested a considerable amount of money into his place, and, above all, there has not been anyone willing to buy his place with enough money for him. In addition, the neighborhood surrounding his place is not exactly a popular area for real estate business, and he only finds himself becoming angry and frustrated again when he talks with his real estate agent, who does not have any good news for him at all.

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Meanwhile, we also meet Tae-jeong (Doh Kyung-soo), a young man who has done a part-time job at Doo-sik’s DVD shop. Like his employer, he really needs money for his own reason, but there are not many options for him, and those few options are not that helpful. He attempts to pawn his old laptop computer, but he does not get as much as he wants. He later asks his employer to pay him his delayed salary right now, but, not so surprisingly, he is only told that he should wait more.

And then it looks like things will finally get better for Doo-sik. On one day, his real estate agent notifies him that there will soon be a potential buyer, and Doo-sik is certainly willing to do anything for selling his place to that potential buyer in question. Besides hiring another employee, he tries to make his place look good at least on the surface, and it looks like that potential buyer is really interested in buying the place at a reasonable price for Doo-sik.

However, a terrible accident happens at the DVD shop not long after that, and Doo-sik is thrown into panic as finding himself stuck with a dead body. Because the incident will likely make that potential buyer change his mind once it is reported to the police, Doo-sik decides to cover it up, so he comes to hide the body in one of the booths in the DVD shop and then locks up its door with several padlocks.

This is bad news to Tae-jeong, because he also hid something important in that booth before Doo-sik put the body there. Now he has to unlock its door and then retrieve that object in question as soon as possible, but that is not easy at all as his employer’s attention is constantly focused on that closed booth, which is even blocked by a DVD shelf later in the story.

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Their absurd situation may look like a good setup for comedy thriller, but the screenplay by director Lee Yong-seung repeatedly fails to develop anything interesting or compelling from that. Simply having its two main characters pulling each other in one direction or another, it does not accumulate any substantial narrative momentum, and then it becomes a lot more worse as it lets its setup crumble during the last act. As a matter of fact, the finale is so insipid and lackadaisical that I am still wondering whether I should have demanded refund.

Moreover, it is hard to care about its cardboard characters. Sure, the movie frequently emphasizes how desperate its two main characters are in their respective difficult positions, but they are more or less than bland puppets to be manipulated, and, most of all, they are not particularly likable or engaging. While Doo-sik is a pathetic jerk, Tae-jeong is your average sullen lad, and there is not any believable sense of character development in both cases.

Two lead performers do try, but they are stuck with their one-dimensional characters from the very beginning, and there is really nothing they can do about that. While he is surely a good actor as shown from “Thirst” (2009) and “The Front Line” (2011), Shin Ha-kyun is frequently demanded to be on shrill mode, and all I can remember from his performance here in this film is how often he raises his voice. In case of Doh Kyung-soo, I observed during the screening that there were many young female audiences eager to see this young popular entertainer on the screen, and I hope they were satisfied with whatever was done by him in the film.

While duly observing how witless and toothless “Room No.7” is, I could not help but think of South Korean film “A Hard Day” (2014). That thriller movie also has two conflicting main characters besides a dead body, but it does a far better job of amusing and exciting us, and I still remember how much I was entertained by its deviously twisted plot. Maybe I should revisit it someday for wiping out the bad memory of “Room No.7”.

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