As one of the top grossing Korean films of 2010, Moss (directed by Kang Woo-seok) is a rural thriller that is sure to have you engrossed from start to finish. Based on the popular 2007 internet comic, Moss balances a number of cinematic elements beautifully as it weaves a truly character-driven narrative to its satisfying and thought provoking climax. It's a long film (pushing on three hours), but it never failed to keep me engaged in the mystery with its vivid characters, atmospheric visuals, and praise-worthy acting.
Ryoo Hae-gook (Park Hae-il) finds himself in a small rural town investigating the death of his estranged father (Heo Joon-ho). Upon his arrival, his suspicions are immediately raised about the true nature of his father's death. Realising that there is more there than meets the eye, he decides to prolong his stay in order to investigate a little further with the help of prosecutor ParkMin-wook (Yoo Joon-sang). A decision that is not welcome by the town's chief.
The town is watched over by Cheon Yong-deok (Jeong Jae-yeong), the sinister and opportunistic chief of this mysterious rural settlement. Once a former detective himself, he now resides over the town with apparent respect and appreciation from all. Like a feudal lord he watches over the town and its happenings, but he does not do so alone. He is accompanied by three henchmen and a beautiful storeowner named Lee Yeong-ji (Yoo Seon).
Kim Deok-cheon (Yoo Hae-jin), Jeon Seok-man (Kim Sang-ho), and Ha Seong-gyoo (Kim Joon-bae) are three ex-cons recruited by Cheon during his years as a detective. They act as his pawns and willingly get their hands dirty for the chief after he spared them lengthy prison sentences for their horrendous crimes.
During their recruitment Cheon and Ryoo's father, a religious and spiritual man but not without flaws, worked together to 'mold' them into reformed members of society. This, however, is not their ultimate fate as Cheon conceals his true use for these "blank slates".
Cheon also has a young woman in his close cabinet. Lee Yeong-ji is a mysterious store owner who caters to Cheon and his henchmen's physical needs. As a young girl, she was raped and assaulted, but Cheon severely punished her assailants at Yoo's request. Since then she has remained in the town with Cheon and Yoo and ultimately has to make a choice as to where her allegiance truly lies between these two highly influential men.
Unsatisfied with the cause of his father's death being natural, Ryoo begins to investigate his father's history and role in the town. As his search yields information that appears dubious, he continues to dig deeper, unravelling the mystery behind this bizarre town and its unforthcoming chief. All the while discovering clues seemingly left by his deceased father.
Moss has an intriguing narrative that contains many subplots and twists. It manages to merge them together into one tightly-knitted story that keeps the suspense high and dangers real, while still managing to insert comic dialogue (largely in the form of Kim Deok-cheon). It is this mesh of tones that contributes towards the eerie atmosphere of the film, creating an unsettling and enthralling story that demands your attention.
Moss tells its story masterfully and one of the factors that contributed towards my emergence in it was the sound. The soundtrack to the film accents each scene perfectly with creepy and unsettling music that really draws you in. At times the action on screen is so engaging that it is hard to isolate, but it's there hypnotising and pulling you into the mystery. Screen and sound are definitely on the same page in Moss.
While the premise to the story may not be entirely original, the film launches away from it through excellent acting and characters. Praise has to be given to the cast of Moss; all the characters evoke interest and are fleshed out enough to avoid any issues of an apathetic moviegoer. Back-stories were produced at the right time and we never knew too much before we had to. I became truly engaged with them and their fates.
-Christopher J. Wheeler