Reviewed by: JimmyO
What's it about
A young boy is emotionally crippled after being improperly anesthetized and feeling his entire heart surgery. Years later, the doctors involved in the surgery suffer possible revenge as it appears that the boy has grown up and is ready to seek his own brand of justice.
Is it good movie?
As I was watching Wide Awake I kept wondering how close it followed the Jessica Alba film Awake which has a similar story. Both films came out in 2007, but it seems that the connection is merely “anesthesia awareness”. It is when someone is given anesthesia during an operation, but only the part that sends you into paralysis works. In other words, you can’t move, but you feel every single cut and slice. Sound scary? Absolutely it does. And in the early moments of this film, that fear translates pretty well, when a young boy screams at his family and doctors that he felt his entire operation. That is something I can’t even begin to imagine. Nor do I want to. But this story is a terrific beginning to an otherwise unexceptional film.
What is really strange about Wide Awake is how much director Lee Kyu-mann seems to be in love with American cinema. Specifically, it reminded me of those American thrillers where there is a mystery, and it all leads up to a few red herrings until finally the culprit reveals himself. Hell, it even has a sort of explanation as to the why, much like a good ole’ red, white and blue flick would have. Not that this is a bad thing, because there are several great American thrillers, and truthfully, there were some really interesting ideas in Kyu-mann’s tale of vengeance. But it felt so Americanized that it lacked some of the mystery that is often surrounding Korean films. I really missed that here, because this didn’t feel as honest as I was hoping it would be. But that is not to say that it is a bad film, far from it, the look and the style is very satisfying as are most of the performances. It just felt like a carbon copy of something else, and not just because of the Jessica Alba flick.
I still respect the fact that there is a very stylish thriller here with a very terrifying premise. As I mentioned, the idea of going through surgery feeling everything is a horrendous one. And I can guarantee if someone survived something like that, it would mess them up for life. So here you have a young doctor and an old friend reunited while all these murders seem to be occurring. And with this, the audience gets to have a little fun playing the old, ‘who is the boy?’ game. I really had a good time with the film and I was for the most part, surprised by the outcome. Even though it wasn’t a shock, I did like the fact that the reveal was believable enough. But for some reason, I was left mildly entertained. It didn’t grab me the way a good thriller should. I wasn’t fully invested with any of the characters. I think the actors did fine work but it wasn’t the type of film to pull you in hook, line and sinker. It did however, make me wonder about how common this kind of thing can be when going in for surgery. Apparently, it is fairly common... now that is scary.
Video / Audio
Video: This Widescreen transfer is very clear. A nice transfer from Genius Entertainment.
Audio: Also quite good is the Dolby 5.1 sound of surgery.
The special features for Wide Awake are pretty good, in lieu of a commentary, there is Memory Returned: The Making of Wide Awake (38:30). This is a very detailed account of the making of the film and it includes interviews with the cast and crew, plus a lot of behind the scenes footage. But seriously, this runs much too long for what it is. I would have preferred more insight on what the film is about as opposed to a stretched out making of. But if you really want to check it out, make sure you watch it after the film, most of these interviews include major spoilers.
There are a set of Featurettes for your enjoyment including, Production Design (13:06), where Kim ji-Woo offers up a little insight on the production design. This is an interesting idea, but the sound for her interview is muffled and unclear… even if you understand the language, you’d probably need sub-titles. It also runs just a bit too long, this aspect of the film was not quite that interesting.
The Actor Interviews (10:29) include Lee Kyu-Maan talking about the relationship of the actors to their characters. Kim Myung-Min, Yu Jun-Sang, Kim Tae-U and Jung You-Seok all speak about the challenges that came with playing their perspective roles. This was more entertaining then the Production Design aspect, since the “characters” are such an important role in this type of thriller.
With Anesthesia Awareness: About Interoperational Awareness (5:22), the actors and director discuss the very real case of anesthesia not working and the patient feeling everything, unable to move or to scream for help. Yep, that is really frightening. But with this short five minute feature, it is all of them discussing how much it would suck and no real insight into actual cases which would have been much better.
And finally, we get Deleted Scenes (12:08) includes one scene that would be more fitting in a psycho sexual thriller involving Chi-Hun O getting a call from a would be rapist. The other two I think would have been more interesting in the film, one in which Uk-Hwan Gang shows a motorist manners and another very nice sequence building the relationship between Jae-U Ryu and his wife.
Wide Awake offers a glimpse of something terrifying and unthinkable. It imagines the outcome of a young mind who suffers from feeling every cut during open heart surgery. But sadly, it fails to imagine a great thriller, only an adequate one. While I liked the film, I think it could have been a much darker film that dealt with the psychology of a warped mind. There are elements throughout which kept my interest, but as a whole it is not as powerful as it could have been. If you’d like to see how a Korean director would tackle a basic American thriller, you should check this out.