THE GIFTED (2014) Blu-ray
Director: Jai-hong Juhn
88 Films

Crime can pay, even for a compulsive psychopathic murderer, in the South Korean thriller GIFTED, on Region B Blu-ray from 88 Films.

Having "voluntarily resigned" his job at an insurance agency undergoing downsizing two months prior, Min-soo (Beom-soo Jeon) is finding it difficult to find another job. In countless interviews, he finds being laid off as much a stigma as not having been promoted throughout the length his tenure. He has not told his fiancée Sujin (Junghwa Bae) but must do so when he learns that she has taken out a loan in his name to buy the café from her retiring boss and needs $300,000 by the end of the month. Although she walks out on him and starts dating to spite him, Min-soo promises to get her the money in time. He takes a job packaging chicken by day and as a chauffeur driving drunks home in their own cars by night (where he is berated for smelling like chicken). Sujin's shiftless brother Yaenwoo (Jeon Beom Su) has been stealing cellphones for wheelchair-bound fence Mr. Choi but he wants to move up to stealing cars that Choi's associates quickly ship overseas but lacks the skill to do so. Having worked in the insurance agency, Min-soo shows Yaenwoo how to unlock a car without the key, and he tries to convince his future brother-in-law to go into the car theft business. Min-soo splits the profits from a couple thefts but is reluctant to commit himself until he loses it one night with an abusive customer and strangles the man, burying the body and then disposing of the car through Choi. Unexpectedly, he finds the conflicting emotion of guilt and physical sexual arousal exhilarating and quits both part-time jobs in order to target drunks posing as the chauffeurs they have called in order to murder them and profit their cars; so much so, that he ends up turning down a professional job offering from a colleague, having reasoned that he is "gifted" when it comes to murder. Sujin is suspicious of her brother suddenly living large but is bowled over by the gifts Min-soo showers her with to press for answers about the nature of his job. Min-soo tries to stifle his desire for violence, but it begins to express itself in other situations.

South Korea catches up with AMERICAN PSYCHO in the slow-burn thriller GIFTED in terms of frank onscreen sexuality and brutality. While it lacks in black humor, the film does deftly illustrates the way society can quickly alienate and isolate someone who might have once been a go-getter "complacent" enough to expect job security, and the ways in which such a character can believably function as if invisible between the civilian and criminal boundaries of society but also how social conventions make it possible for a communication gap between an engaged couple (here, in terms of Sujin's ambitions for her own business and Min-soo's ability to hide both his unemployment and any details of his new job). Unfortunately, it may all be too grim an experience to actually entertain or "thrill," likely satisfying only writer/director Jai-hong Juhn (BEAUTIFUL) in his third feature which seems like it should have been a less mature debut effort.

As yet unreleased in the United States, GIFTED seems to be making its worldwide Blu-ray debut with 88 Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer which looks great since it is a four-year old film (and likely the HD master is of the same vintage or possibly newer) with good detail that occasionally wars with the derivative high-contrast look pushed towards the clashing cool blues and grays with light sources that range from fluorescent off-whites to almost sodium vapor yellows. Audio options include DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, with the surround mix deliberately restrained with centered dialogue and front channel directional effects while the surrounds are used for atmosphere, classical music, and the occasional surprise. Optional English subtitles are without any obvious errors, but hopefully the Korean rights holders are to blame for them rather than any finessing on the UK side as an educated characters use of the non-word "prolly" is so distracting in context as to be off-putting. The sole extra is the film's theatrical trailer (1:31). (Eric Cotenas)