Festival Film Review: Hong Won-chan’s The Office at LEAFF

Chris Fujiwara introduces the screening of The Office
Chris Fujiwara introduces the screening of The Office

The Office was the second of two Korean films to screen at the 0th edition of the London East Asia Film Festival, and came with strong credentials. Though a debut feature by Hong Won-chan, he was the scriptwriter for the well received Yellow Sea and even better received The Chaser. And the movie was Official Midnight Screening Selection at the Cannes Film Festival.

The scenario is that a salaryman goes home one day and slaughters his family. The police investigation checks the CCTV at the office, and finds footage of the suspect returning to work after the incident, but no footage of him leaving. Cue a whole load of scary incidents in the office – the unexplained clattering of the keys on a keyboard, an alarm clock that mysteriously moves desks – and a rising body count in Sales Team #2, where a timid intern is hoping she’ll get hired full-time.

Ko Ah-sung as put-upon intern Lee Mirae
Ko Ah-sung as put-upon intern Lee Mirae

The horror conventions are well-respected – the mysterious marauder makes their presence felt one moment only to vanish the next, and there are plenty of times you jump out of your seat. There is also a couple of nods to other Korean movies – I spotted Oldboy and Into the Mirror, and there may have been more – but that was part of the fun. If there were to be one criticism it is that there are moments when the pacing drags a little – five minutes less, and the film would be about the right length.

Into the Mirror
A still from Into the Mirror…

The sound design deserves a special mention. Every horror movie requires a trademark sound to warn the audience that something scary is about to happen. This movie had two: a weird submarine-sonar pinging sound as a general scene-setter, and the creaking of shoe-leather as the zombie-like killer Manager Kim draws near.

Bae Seong-woo as Manager Kim
Bae Seong-woo as Manager Kim: what is going on behind that vacant expression?

Or is it Manager Kim…? One of the puzzles of this movie is that while you might think you know who is responsible for the carnage in the cubicles, at the end you’re not necessarily quite sure why. But what is certain is that you don’t want to be working in an office where there is so much competition and bitching. Ko Ah-sung is good as the intern, and Bae Seong-woo as Manager Kim, with his vacant smile and expressionless face, is wonderfully sinister.

Hong Won-chan (홍원찬) The Office (오피스, 2015) SterneSterneSterneSterneSterne

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