We meet Soo-myung (Lee Min-ki )and Seung-min (Yeo Jin-goo ) late one night, as they enter a psychiatric hospital. Soo-myung is clearly troubled, scared and shy, bundled into the back of his father’s van as he is driven to front door of the institution. Seung-min cuts a more mysterious figure, stopped on a highway by three vehicles that have chased down his sports car, he faced his foes defiantly, before being beaten down. Who is he? He could be a playboy, a gangster or both.
Soon an unlikely friendship emerges between the two as they struggle to adapt to this new life. Seung-min is always confronting authority. He is brazen and also flirty, making passes at Soo-myung and commenting on his feminine looks. Is this a genuine expression of sexual affection, a challenge to the status quo, or some other ruse? Since we don’t know why this otherwise sane looking young man is locked up, are we to assume his potential homosexuality is being diagnosed as an illness? And Soo-myung, whose features are soft, refuses to have his long hair cut. This seems to be part of a trauma but is it also a hint to something else, a gender issue perhaps, that is also being treated as a medical malady.
Shoot Me In The Heart plays these themes without ever being clear cut about them. This may be only to arouse our curiosity about why these two are in hospital. But, the longer the ambiguity is allowed to foment, the more it feels like a distraction. This is not helped by the way the other patients appear mostly as a kind of comic relief. The film never manages to be funny, even when it seems to be straining for a laugh.
Shoot Me In The Heart is director Mun Che-yong’s first feature film, adapted from an award winning novel by Jeong You-jeong. The film was featured in the Asian Future section (highlighting new directors) of the Tokyo International Film Festival. There is enough in the more emotionally earnest and cinematically ambitious scenes, like the moments when we see Seung-min take flight in his paraglider, or in the pair’s big escape sequence, to suggest Che-yong could do far better in the future.
However, Shoot Me In The Heart will frustrate many viewers, because those good moments aside, the portrayal of mental illness in the film grates and eventually annoys. The disappointing things is that illness isn’t really the core message of the film, with the final act becoming a soulful and quite beautiful critique of growing up in contemporary Korean society.