What would you do for a million dollars? Among the things I wouldn’t do is take part in a reality show – I think I’d rather eat my own toenails, or anyone else’s toenails for that matter. But unlike cranky folk like me, there’s a lot of people who’d like nothing better than to spend several weeks exposing their every breath to millions of viewers. Even when the ‘reality’ involves spending 7 days in the Australian outback, in an arduous survival game that offers a chance to get hurt as well as humiliated. And not just hurt: as the contestants find out on the second day, losing is as final as it can get, with the eliminated contestant of the first day found throughly dead.
So how thrilling is this thriller? Sadly, much less than it ought to be. The Australian outback is appropriately outback-y, being alternately bleak desert and dark and brooding bush. The two examples of Australian wildlife offered as scare material were less impressive: the large moth that gave the van-load of hopefuls such a shock was at least authentic, but the night-roaming cheetah isn’t a common feature of Australian landscapes. They’d be much more sensible to fear our wealth of poisonous spiders and scorpions and other small creepies.
The film boasts a good cast, including Park Hae-il (Memories of Murder, The Host), Shin Min-a (A Bittersweet Life, The Beast and the Beauty), and Park Hee-soon (Three Extremes 2). All three are capable professional actors, and all three work hard at their roles.
Alas, they’re let down by the quality of the script. Just as you can’t turn a pantomime into an opera, here the writer/director can’t turn a fairly banal and predictable script into a thriller. The characters aren’t that engaging, the plot doesn’t so much develop as bog off for a smoke until it shows up in a big dollop in the last half hour, and the final denouement is overlong and less than credible.
Korean cinema has produced some incredibly fine films over the years. Sadly, this ain’t one of them – watch one of those linked above and compare.