Deranged (연가시, Park Jung-Woo: 2012)

While more medical thriller than outright horror, Deranged is thoroughly enjoyable, albeit  slightly antiseptic on the body-horror front for a film in which the body is the site of invasion by horsehairs worms. The emotional core of the film comes from the troubled relationship between a police officer, Jae-pil (Kim Dong-wan) and his brother, Jae-hyeok (Kim Myung-min), a sales executive for a pharmaceutical company. Due to unwisely investing all of his savings in the stock market on a tip from his brother, Jae-hyeok is struggling to provide for his wife (Mun Jung-hee) and his two children whom he unwittingly neglects and whom as a result become victims of a deadly epidemic that is rapidly spreading throughout South Korea leaving a trail of dead and emaciated bodies in its wake.

The infected are herded up by the government and quarantined while doctors desperately try to find a cure for the pandemic and the pharmaceutical company that makes medication that can cure the infection, stockpiles existing stocks, and refuses to hand over the formula to the government unless the government buys it for a hugely inflated price. Jae-hyeok desperately tries to buy the medication on the black market, only to have it stolen from him when eventually he manages to find some in a truly effective set-piece of mob hysteria and brutality. Meanwhile, Jae-pil is involved in the official police investigation into the cause of this mysterious and deadly illness, and with his girlfriend, the beautiful Dr Kim (Honey Lee), who works for the Department of Health, races against time to solve the deadly mystery.

Park Jung-woo handles the material well, creating a fast-paced and absorbing medical thriller, while Mun Jung-hee is particularly effective as the mother trying to prevent her children from succumbing to the madness caused by the infection while struggling to contain her own destructive desire for water, which signals the final part and terminal part of the virus. The social commentary on big-business’s lack of empathy for human suffering is effective and timely given South Korea’s highly developed capitalist society in which the relationship between the rich and the poor has never been so stratified. The creation of a disease by the pharmaceutical company in order to enhance its stock profile, and the holding back of the cure for the disease until sufficient monetary settlement has been made, is an explicit metaphor for the workings of capitalist society that creates the wealth through the suffering of the working classes laying bare the machinery of capitalism and South Korea’s economic miracle.

Deranged has a great deal to offer the viewer both at textual and metatextual levels, and it is no surprise that it was a hit at the domestic box office.

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