FestivalsFilmReview

The Woman in the White Car – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Ja-yeun Seo

Director: Christine Ko

The best twists in this convoluted thriller from South Korea come at the very start. Do-kyung drives her car feverishly into a hospital car park. In the passenger seat is her sister who has been brutally attacked. But when the police arrive to investigate they quickly discover that the woman in intensive care is not Do-kyung’s sister after all and that there is no evidence that the attack took place in the way Do-kyung describes. We are immediately thrown into a world where everyone is an unreliable narrator.

At first, the ride is a fun one, and there are glimmers of Fargo in these early stages when we meet policewoman Hyun-ju who would rather eat noodles than catch criminals. Played by Parasite’s Jung-eun Lee, Hyun-ju is a great character whose initial indifference conceals a deep heart. She’s joined by a young male policeman whose interest in the case is undermined by his greenness. Hyun-ju’s own attention to detail is not much better, and their police-work is remarkably shoddy. Cars remain unsearched; suspects are left to their own devices.

Just as the police duo feels that they have cracked the case, another version of events is presented, and then another and another. Each new scenario is differentiated from the main film by the means of a narrower ratio; a nice visual but its addition doesn’t do much to examine the nature of storytelling. The first account sets the scene for a violent domestic assault when Do-kyung meets her prospective brother-in-law for the first time. He loses his temper when she cooks what he believes is a meagre meal after his long journey. The next version has a mentally ill Do-kyung serving socks to her sister and brother-in-law instead of noodles.

Wide-eyed and fearful, Ryeowon Jung makes an excellently watchable protagonist, and she’s able to make the more unlikely parts of the narrative possible. She is required to change character in almost every flashback. There is also some pleasure to be had watching the two cops finally work towards a conclusion, but a segment about Hyun-ju’s own troubled childhood doesn’t quite work sandwiched between the increasingly silly coincidences that are involved in the final truth.

At over two hours, The Woman In The White Car feels like the first two episodes of a series, and, indeed, there is even a break halfway during the film to finish a pun written on screen first presented at the film’s start. Christine Ko’s film would perhaps work well as a two-part TV series, and there is something familiarly Nordic Noir about it where it could be drawn out into more episodes, or even into more series that would keep BBC4 busy on Saturday nights for many years to come.

The Woman in the White Car is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Twisty Thriller

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