Five strangers are sent to conduct a back robbery and end up betrayed by someone. They spend the evening in a warehouse trying to find out who set them up.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Tae-kyung Kim must be Quentin Tarantino’s biggest fan. Puzzle tells the story of five strangers brought together by a mysterious person known only as X. These men perform an elaborate bank robbery but when they arrive at the warehouse they were ordered to they find one of their number dead, shot and burned to death. The four survivors, all dressed in black suits, white shirts and ties begin to unravel, no one trusting the others. If it sounds a bit like Reservoir Dogs, you would be right.
The men try to figure out who set up the heist, who betrayed them and what to do about it through flashbacks of the setup. Through these flashbacks we get glimpses into who each of the men are, as the title of the movie suggests, start to piece together the pieces of the puzzle until the final revelation at the conclusion. Movies like this live and die by their twists and Kim presents a story here that scatters the clues throughout the flashbacks, allowing the viewer to actively participate in the whodunit but the flashbacks didn’t always keep me interested and I always found myself drifting off.
The main problem with the film is the criminals themselves. They are all kind of generic and boring and none of them make me want to invest time in their arcs. None of these men carry the charisma of a Mr. Blonde or Mr. Orange, so none of them make me care if they live or die, or if they are guilty of a double cross or just a victim. At the end of the day the villain never comes across as interesting as a Keyser Soze. What makes the movie fail are the obvious comparisons to the movies that influenced it. From the dress of the criminals to the scenes themselves, almost stolen straight from its predecessors, you can’t judge the movie without thinking about the others.
There is a scene where the criminals sit around a table and trade stories that rifts the breakfast scene in Reservoir Dogs. There is a scene where the men walk down an alley, suits on, preparing for the crime that comes straight from Reservoir Dogs. The flashback of the robbery itself is lifted straight from The Usual Suspects. There is also a scene where one of the criminals pulls a gun on another because he knew he was a cop. A third pulls a gun and the scene is an exact copy of the scene with Blonde, White and Orange in Reservoir Dogs. This movie is nothing more than a rehash of better movies.
It is not a failure, though, and that is because of the direction by Kim. Kim is one of a new generation of Asian filmmakers that owe their shooting styles to Tarantino. The Pang brothers have a similar style, as evident in their slick and stylish The Eye 10 (The Eye 3 in the U.S.). The visuals in The Puzzle make it a great addition to the genre by themselves. The warehouse scenes are dark and grimy but when we jump into the flashbacks they are the work of a filmmaker with a great eye. The setup to the robbery is shot in bright colors, silvers and whites. The flashback to the characters pasts are even more vibrant, shot in hues of green with neon signs lighting up the background. It looks fantastic.
The visual flair of the director should be enough to keep you interested in the movie until about the one hour mark where you actually begin to get interested in what each character has to do the other. However, when we get to the big reveal at the end it is more of a what the fuck moment than anything. It’s like they gave us all the red herrings and clues and then just said what the fuck, let’s just throw this shit at the wall and see if it sticks. They try to show the clues they gave us in flashbacks but they are all simplistic and if you blinked you missed them.
If you ignore the left-field twist, the ride to that end is pretty fun and Tae-kyung Kim has proven to be a talent to watch.
The extra features include three features. The first feature is an interview with the actors from the movie. It is 15:07 and talks to each of them about their characters and their preparation in playing the roles. There is a behind-the-scenes featurette that runs 15:21. Tae-kyung Kim states at the beginning the movie was influenced by his favorite movie of all time, Reservoir Dogs. At least they are honest about it. The idea was to make a movie like Reservoir Dogs, but using their own style. Kim actually talks a lot about Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and how he borrowed the styles from both movies to tell his story. It’s a very interesting feature about a first time filmmaker and his debut feature. The third feature was about the music score, which I barely noticed at all throughout the movie. It clocks in at 12:14.