Bystanders (2005)
By: Paul Ryan on November 25, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Korean DD 5.1, Korean DTS 5.1. English Subtitles. 102 minutes
The Movie
Director: Kyung-Soo Im
Starring: Yunjin Kim Eric Moon Eun-Kyung Shin Ju-sang Yun
Writer: Kyung-Soo Im
Country: South Korea
At a Seoul high school, a number of students have been brutally murdered. Each of the victims is found to carry a capsule buried in their bodies. Inside the capsule lies a fragment of a diary commenting on the victims. Delving into the case, detectives Ja Young (Eun-Kyung Shin) and her rookie partner Dong-Wook (Eric Moon) trace the diary entries to teenager Jinmo (Jin-Ho Kim). Jinmo's diaries reveal a litany of sustained abuse at the hands of his fellow classmates, some of whom count among the murder victims. The only problem is that Jinmo died a month ago in a hit and run accident. Facing resistance from her unsupportive superiors, Ja-Young discovers that the murders have a link to her own past, in the form of her school yard friend Seo (Yunjin Kim), and a dark chapter in their own school days…

Bystanders is a watchable, but not terribly compelling thriller. Well produced and solidly acted, the film awkwardly blends elements of murder-mystery, buddy-cop films, family drama and social commentary, but sells each element short. It's certainly interesting to see an examination of the effects of school bullying in South Korean culture, but despite some trenchant moments, this is subservient to the serial killer plotline. Eun-Kyung Shin and Eric Moon play off each other well as the bickering detectives, even though some of their comedic banter feels like it's from another film entirely. The opening developments play out in a choppy fashion, making it difficult to follow exactly what is going on, and that only serves to distance the viewer rather than draw one in.

It's likely that some more judicious editing would have helped, because for all these flaws, there are some very potent scenes and stylish visuals. There's potential for a very good movie in here, but something got fumbled in the editing room.
As you'd expect from a movie made just two years ago, Bystanders looks fantastic. This a gorgeous transfer, rich in detail and colour, fully conveying the mood and stylishness of Cheol-Ju Kim's fine cinematography.
Solid Dolby and DTS 5.1 Korean tracks are on offer here, though this isn't a soundtrack that is heavily reliant on big noises. Yellow removable English subtitles are provided, though the translation seems a bit stilted at times.
Extra Features
The Making of Bystanders (12.52m full frame): This is basic compilation of behind the scenes footage, cast interviews and fight rehearsals. No great shakes, but it is interesting to learn that this film took over a year to make, due to the availability of key cast members.

Getting Into the Role (4.28m full frame): A lengthy, uninterrupted take of Yunjin Kim as her character reacts to a key plot development. It's more interesting than it sounds, as Kim acts – and moreover, reacts - to footage that hasn't been shot at this point.

Stills Gallery: 24 stills from the film. As I've said before, I just don't get the point of these things, especially when they consist solely of scenes from the film.

Theatrical Trailer (2.18m 4x3 Letterbox): An effective enough trailer, though the picture quality is nowhere near the film itself.

Eastern Eye Trailers: Bonus trailers are included for other South Korean Eastern Eye titles. These are No Mercy For The Rude (2.37m, 2.35:1, 4x3), The Red Shoes (2.20m, 1.85:1, 4x3), The Host (2.15m, 1.85:1, 4x3) and A Bittersweet Life (2.10, 2.35:1, 4x3).

Lastly, the disc comes with a Reversible Cover, which is kinda neat.
The Verdict
Stylishly filmed and acted with conviction, Bystanders tries unsuccessfully to cover too much ground, but is a painless way to kill 103 minutes. As another addition to Madman's booming Eastern Eye range, the film is presented on a quality disc with extras which range from blah to quite interesting.
Movie Score
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