‘Perfect Number’ (2012) Dir. Bang Eun-jin

Antoniya PETKOVA
Assistant Editor


  It is indeed one rare, extraordinary feeling to accidentally stumble across an outstanding cinematic experience, an absolutely astonishing piece of cinema such as ‘Perfect Number’. Bang Eun-jin’s flawlessly balanced blend of superb performances and honest reality conceals unpredictable revelations and promises to ultimately leave the viewer beyond words.

   The film, adapted from Keigo Higashino’s ‘Yogisha X no Kenshin’ is such a simple yet utterly beautiful production, which merges suspense and drama in a fluid, unobtrusive manner. Kim Suk-go (Ryoo Seung-beom) is a brilliant mathematician, who appears submerged in a world of math and simplicity, leading a life of solitude and isolation. His awkward exchanges with neighbour Hwa-sun (Lee Yo-won) might reveal a hint of the romantic feelings he bears for her, but his approach does not go beyond shyly ordering the same lunch box from her workplace each morning. When Hwa-sun unwittingly commits a crime, the quiet Suk-go offers his helping hand and promises to protect Hwa-sun and her niece at all cost. As the investigation into the murder and the prime suspects digs deeper, Hwa-sun begins to suspect her neighbour might be carrying a dark mind.

   Director Bang Eun-jin creates a production which abandons some of the strongest points of the adapted novel by becoming less interested in the intellectual mechanics of the crime or the genius chain of logic and calculation which leads to the perfect alibi. Instead, taking a frivolous interpretation Bang deserts the crime/thriller genre and delves into a much more delicate territory. ‘Perfect Number’s strength is exactly in this discrepancy – the film alters its purpose and tone entirely – it does not provide payoff for the high levels of intensity and suspense which it has been building towards, but instead offers a uniquely different emotional outcome.

 The young director continues to prove herself as a masterful artist, weaving together separate strands of the film with such inconspicuousness and letting it flow so naturally, so intuitively, so sincerely. The shift from detective story to psycho thriller ending in drama is executed flawlessly and it feels organic, there is a superb level of consistency in her storytelling. Not dissimilarly to her ‘Princess Aurora’, the events in ‘Perfect Number’ become clearer as minutes go by and what has started out as one genre slowly blends into another. The film does not attempt to be poignant or shocking, but is nonetheless gripping, as the viewer keeps guessing and being taken by surprise. Perhaps the sole disappointing motion is the quick summary of events at the hands of the detective, delivering it to the audience in a clump, but then again the specifics of the crime and its consequences are not what the film is really after.

   Ryoo Seung-beom is beyond words amazing in this picture, his performance is out-of-the-world extraordinary. For an actor so accustomed to playing quirky comical characters or mysterious criminal minds, the role of an introvert shy genius mathematician is not one the audience would have expected to fit his mould so comfortably. However, his quirky self is unrecognisable as he plays Suk-go to a point of near-invisibility, yet is able to maintain an honest and consistent character which is realistic and human. Lee Yo-won supports and contrasts Ryoo perfectly, being more visible and more intensely reactive which resonates beautifully with the calmness of Suk-go’s actions, and she is perfectly believable as the desperate unwitting perpetrator of a crime having placed her life and fate into the hands of a virtual stranger.

  ‘Perfect Number’ is an ultimately invigorating experience, unanticipated and utterly beautiful. This is a film about touching somebody else’s life in unexpected ways; it is a story of trust and fear, of human emotion at its purest. All the more tragic is the lack of reciprocity in the face of sacrifice, but at the end this idealistic romantic idea of love itself is Suk-go’s salvation and catharsis. To conceal all this under a coating of crime and thriller is pure magic at the hands of director Bang Eun-jin. Whereas ‘Princess Aurora’ lifts the coating to reveal the harsh and ugly drama underneath, ‘Perfect Number’ does so to uncover the beauty and purity of human emotion at its most innocent, most genuinely liberating expression – self-sacrifice.

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