Some people are just born evil. As for the wordless sociopath at the center of “Bad Guy,” he’s got some good in him, but it shows in the worst ways.
After being justifiably rejected by the virginal Sun-hwa (Won Seo, “Seom”), the just-wants-to-be-loved Han-ki (Jae-hyeon jo, “Moebius”) traps the poor girl in a world of prostitution and depravity.
“Bad Guy” is a frank portrayal of violence and abuse. It’s not easy to watch the numerous rape scenes, especially given that Sun-hwa is innocent. But when it happens over and over again, what’s the point? There’s a message here, but it almost gets lost in the violence.
When it comes down to it, the film is a character study and an effective one at that. Jae-hyeon as Han-ki is a silent menace taking out his anger on innocent passers-by and is, in a perverse way, trying to protect Sun-hwa from excessive abuse.
Director Ki-duk Kim chose a delicate balancing act here. On the one hand, Han-ki trapped Sun in this brutal world and watches her exchanges with customers. On the other hand, he tries to make her stay less traumatic.
He’s a violent child who wants control, not necessarily love. In the film, he’s almost never seen in the light. Always cloaked by shadow, he’s like some creature afraid of the light. Each scene is immensely dark and dirty; everything looks like it’s covered in a coat of dust and dirt. “Bad Guy” is caked with immorality and a vague emotional pain. Something deep jabs at each of the characters and, whether they’re victimized or not, no one deals with that pain well or ends up being the good guy. Good, in the film, is an unnatural urge that opposes evil. Evil is the natural state here and everyone adheres to it.
Sadly, there’s no real narrative to answer these bigger questions and performances as strong as the ones here deserve something more. It’s often shocking, but the shock comes with little substance and that is “Bad Guy”’s biggest offense: Not giving substance its subject matter deserves.