A middle-aged man meets an 18-year-old girl in a hotel, with the intent to purchase her first sexual experience, but questioning her virginity, he starts to haggle for a better price.
Lee Chung-Hyun’s dark and twisty short film Bargain created a stir across international festivals in 2016 (Busan, Toronto) and propelled the young Korean filmmaker to fame, leading to Netflix productions The Call and his latest Ballerina, to be released next week.
This year’s TIFF saw the story adapted from 15 minutes into a six-episode series – with a second season held out in prospect. Writer and director Woo-Sung Jeon takes the short as a point of departure and uses it as a diving board to jump off of to create a wild, dog-eat-dog fight for survival, as the protagonists are now trapped in the disintegrating hotel due to an earthquake.
The first episode is comprised of a single take; sharing time and space with the characters makes the setting lively, and creates an approachability, even as the plot points start to one-up themselves. With mostly hidden cuts, the same style is kept for the subsequent episodes. But due to a significantly higher amount of action, there are more effects at play, and the mixture of digital composition and moving with the character risks creating the feel of a video game, rather than an appeal to the audience’s empathy.
The series stars Jeon Jong-seo (The Call, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon) and Jin Seon-kyu (The Outlaws, Space Sweepers), who both deliver rather non-transparent performances that keep viewers guessing as to their character’s true intentions.
Winning Best Screenplay at the Cannes Series Festival earlier this year, the show’s script knows how to entertain and thrill alike, going all out in its depiction of a worst-case scenario.
The score’s grinding saxophone enhances the seedy atmosphere in some segments but on occasion, the jazz elements are too upbeat for the violent scenes they accompany.
Fans of Korean drama will undoubtedly enjoy this slightly mad exploration of the underbelly of human civilisation.
Bargain is released on 5th October 2023.
Watch the trailer for Bargain here: