Saturday, 15 April 2006

Daisy 데이지 (2006)

You can’t make some flowers grow out of mud

Daisy overflows with possibilities; it represents an attempt to grow out of the formulaic direction of Korean cinema, by retelling familiar genres in an experimental way. Hye-young (Jeon Ji-hyun), an street artist becomes a love interest of Pak-ui (Jeong Woo-seong), a professional killer who prefers to observe her from the sidelines. He is hunted by Sung-wu (Lee Seong-jae), an Interpol agent whom the artist falls in love with, because she believes, erroneously, that he is the mysterious sender of the daisies she receives every day at 4.15 pm. Shorn of the daisies, this set-up borrows liberally from the past 20 years of Hong Kong cinema. There’s the love triangle story between an artist, an assassin and the cop chasing him, the hard-boiled Interpol crime story in Amsterdam (Hong Kong’s directors have this obsession with Amsterdam and Haarlem Square), and the gangster story involving the assassin. The challenge is to mix all 3 stories together into 1 movie such a unique way that can make you forget how unoriginal the ingredients were.

The first act of Daisy impresses with its innovative storytelling. The same story is told from the points of view of the three main characters; first, by the assassin, then the artist, and finally the detective. Each character is privy to knowledge that is out of reach from the other two, and yet unaware of other things that are known to them. This gives the comic and light touch that keeps the story fresh during the multiple retellings. At the same time, key scenes that keep repeating in the retellings gain an emotional and cinematic intensity that suggest the director and his writers are on the verge of an unforgettable movie.

Alas, everything falls apart near the end of the first act. Writers Chong and Kwak must’ve felt that it was would be enough to stitch a romantic comedy, a Korean TV melodrama, a cop thriller, and a Hong Kong crime story that incidentally feature some characters in common together, and a cohesive movie would emerge automatically. Instead, they have created a Frankenstein monster that is less than the sum of its parts, a movie whose abrupt mood and stylistic changes in every scene leave you disoriented, because no effort was made to work in the alchemy once the individual stories begin to intersect and meld into each other.

Before long, the movie looks like a montage of greatest moments from various Korean and Hong Kong flicks from the past, with well-dressed stars posing and preening in an exotic locale. Why is Daisy set it in Amsterdam anyway? I hope it wasn’t because Amsterdam used to be the favourite overseas shooting location for Hong Kong directors before the industry meltdown in the late 1990s. Why bother shooting a movie in Amsterdam if you’re not going to feature its sex industry or its liberal drug laws? Why turn Hye-young into a mute if you’re going to hear her constantly in the voiceover anyway? It’s pointless, because it steals without understanding from John Woo’s The Killer, where Sally Yeh was accidentally blinded by a stray bullet and is cared for by Chow Yun Fat, a top assassin who falls in love with her. Daisy could have been 10 minutes shorter had it not been for a pointless and tacked-on section that imitates the worst-written gangster movie endings from Hong Kong. Why does the theme song have to tell the audience the moral of the story, as though they can’t work it out themselves? The Final Fantasy video game series has theme songs in their closing sequences that state the morals of the story less blatantly than Daisy, surprisingly.

Derivative and weak, Daisy does not get my recommendation. Even if its first act held some promise, the rest of the movie fails to deliver, and quickly sinks into the quicksand it was built on. See this movie if you are a fan of Jeon Ji-hyun, or if you like watching movies that remind you of the reruns playing on television last week.

First published at incinemas on 27 April 2006

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