From South Korea, The Witness takes a modern spin on the parable The Good Samaritan. Briefly, the Biblical story is about a man, beaten on the side of the road, and a religious leader passes by without helping. The man is rescued by a Samaritan and rewarded for his kindness. Unlike the parable, the stakes in Kyu-Jan Cho’s The Witness are life and death.
Late at night around 1 a.m., a killer (Si-Yang Kwak) is chasing a young woman through the woods. The woman makes it to the parking lot of an apartment complex before the killer catches up to her and bludgeons her with a hammer.
In the meantime, Sang-hoon (Sung-min Lee) returns home after being at work and sees the murder take place through his sixth-story window. Sang sees everything until his wife turns on the living room lights causing the killer to look up at the window. Sang quickly turns off the light, but its too late, the killer is gone. Sang barricades himself by his apartment door for the rest of the night.
“The woman makes it to the parking lot of an apartment complex before the killer catches up to her and bludgeons her with a hammer…”
Soon, Detective Jae-Yeop (Sang-ho Kim) is in the parking lot investigating the murder. Jae discovers from surveillance cameras, that Sang and two other tenants were in the apartment’s lobby just before the murder. Detective Jae asks Sang if he saw anything and Sang says no. He doesn’t want to place himself or his family in any further danger.
Days later, Sang is approached by his neighbor, who was in the elevator with him that night. She begs him to go with her to the police and tell them what happened. Sang says no, but changes his mind. When he arrives at his neighbor’s apartment to do the right thing, she laying in a pool of her own blood, and the killer is there.
As you can imagine, Sang’s life starts to get a little intense. Now, the killer knows who he is, but luckily he wants to remain low profile and doesn’t trying anything bold or out in the open. He also knows who his family is as well and sort of stalks them. Sang also doesn’t completely trust the police and still refuses to admit he saw now both murders. And to make matters worse, the police apprehend the wrong guy and close the case.
“The moral lesson of The Good Samaritan is not lost on this film either and is an indictment on people who keep everything to themselves…”
The Witness is pretty much a police crime thriller as seen from the perspective of a witness. It also becomes clear that crime dramas play out differently in South Korea than here in the States. As portrayed in the film, citizens are not likely to help the police out of personal safety, lack of trust, and laziness at times.
The film plays out as a dog/cat/mouse chase between the police, Sang, and the killer. It’s loaded with enough twists and turns to keep the story and action interesting. There’s also excellent high-stakes tension spread throughout the film.
The moral lesson of The Good Samaritan is not lost on this film either and is an indictment on people who keep everything to themselves. There are consequences to Sang’s inaction that weighs heavily on him. Although in the end, I think if this were an American film, either the killer would have been caught sooner or more people would have died.
The Witness (2018) Directed by Kyu-Jang Cho. Written by Jo Kyu-Jang, Young-Jong Lee. Starring Sung-min Lee, Sang-ho Kim, Kyung Jin, Si-Yang Kwak. The Witness screened at the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival.
7 out of 10 stars