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Director: Lee Kyoo-man
Screenplay: Lee Kyoo-man, Lee Hyeon-jin
Cast: Kim Myeong-min, Yoo Joon-sang, Kim Tae-woo, Jeong Yoo-seok, Kim Yoo-mi
Producers: Lotus Film
Distributor: CJ Entertainment
In the category of “really awful things that can happen to a person in the course of their life,” the occurrence of what’s called in the medical vernacular "unintended intra-operative awareness" is easily among the top five, right up there with being burned alive and having paper cuts administered to one’s eyes. Imagine being sliced up, having a bone sawed, having one’s organs manipulated, and all the while feeling all the pain that entails while being unable to react. This is a very real phenomenon that, while thankfully quite rare, deeply traumatizes its unlucky victims.
WIDE AWAKE opens on a young boy having precisely that experience. Not only does he suffer terribly, his doctors and even his father dismiss his later recountings as lies. He finds an unseemly manner of keeping the demons of his trauma at bay by inflicting horrific torture on small animals. This sick, troubling behaviour quickly metastasizes into the makings of a psychopath. The consequences become all too apparent when several years later, members of the staff at the same hospital begin disappearing under shadowy circumstances.
With this thriller in a medical vein, director and co-writer Lee Kyoo-man drags us into a world of pain where sound and image are deftly deployed in the duty of discomfort. If the big needles and surgical saws don’t have you squirming, the handful of animal-cruelty sequences certainly will. The film, however, takes great pains not to fall into the terrain of Grand Guignol. The intense evocations of suffering and sadism serve to expose the psychological workings of this youth who, upon reaching adulthood, takes merciless revenge upon those responsible for his state. By the way, don’t for a moment expect an easy task of identifying the culprit among the myriad suspects at hand in this incisive tale, crawling with dread from the first frames. Lee Kyoo-man is among the fresh crop of new directors whose debut features Fantasia proudly presents this year. There’s a very good chance that the next Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho or Ryoo Seung-wan, all of them Fantasia discoveries, is among them.